At 10.45pm last night, after days of speculation and rumor, Occupy Austin was evicted from the steps of City Hall.
The Occupiers were told at 9.30pm last night that they had one hour to leave the plaza. New rules had been issued by City Manager Marc Ott's office, requiring a reservation by any group planning to use the Mezzanine or Amphitheater, and barring any non-city usage between 10pm and 6am unless there is a city meeting going on. The new rules also ban "sleeping, camping and the use or storage of sleeping equipment" at all times.
Coolers marked in sharpie with SRT (Special Response Team) were seen being taken into City Hall earlier this week, and occupiers had been told on Monday that they would face eviction on Wednesday. That deadline passed with no incident, but the city was obviously preparing for this later event.
In a press release issued today, Occupy Austin said that 50 police arrived by bus at 10.45pm, and quickly emptied the area, not giving people sufficient time to collect their personal belongings. The protesters then gathered at Republic Square Park and continued to march along Sixth Street. They continued to webcast the event until "it was reported that APD was watching the Livestream and using that information to surround the Occupiers."
According to our photographer John Anderson, who was on the scene, the first arrest was Corey Williams – who was running the Occupy Austin live stream. Anderson reports that Williams was pointed out by APD Commander Jason Dusterhoft to his officers (it has been standard practice at other evictions to shut down the live stream as fast as possible).
Seven arrests were made in total, a group consisting of core Occupiers (including Bernard Zapata Garcia, Dallas Aycock and Jordan Walsh) as well as city hall regular Debbie Russell were arrested. According to Occupy sources, each has been charged with criminal trespass with a $100 bond, except Walsh who received four charges, and his bond has been set at $11,000.
One protester, 58-year-old Claire Hirschkind, was taken to Brackenridge Hospital: The city's press office told us via Twitter that she suffers from regular seizures, but Anderson said she was clearly pushed.
This morning, Anderson emailed me to say, "I returned to City Hall after Occupy Austin had wandered the streets like nomads for a couple of hours. I got shots of the cops there, but as soon as some kid showed up and yelled something about First Amendment rights, the cops chased us off. I was told by a cop that I could not stand on the sidewalk in front of City Hall since even the sidewalk is considered City Hall property and now under curfew."
The consensus seems to be that this whole event was handled much worse than the cleaning/clean out operation or the Halloween arrests. Those operation, like all of the interactions between the city and Occupy, was handled through the office of Assistant City Manager Mike McDonald, with Chief of Police Art Acevedo (often depicted by all parties as a calming influence) present.
However, word then was that Mayor Lee Leffingwell's office was extremely dissatisfied with McDonald and Ott's hamfisted handling of the situation. Moreover, Acevedo was not present last night, with the operation seemingly being handled by Dusterhoft. Not only was there no seeming need for an eviction, but the more pragmatic question of whether this really was the best use of APD forces on a wet Friday night (much like the Halloween debacle: Because, of course, there are no better places for APD to be then, either.)
Not hard to imagine that there will be some pointed and furious phone calls being exchanged this morning.
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