In a tense day marred by two arrests and the pepper-spraying of demonstrators at what remains of the Occupy San Diego encampment at the Civic Center Plaza, it ends in a compromise that allows protesters to sleep one more night in the Plaza in sleeping bags. The compromise does not allow for occupiers to have any tents – except the one that does remain as a symbol of the seven-day occupation.
The day began with police moving in at about 8 am (just in time for the morning news) grabbing and dismantling the half-dozen tents that remained. The order by police to take down all tents had come on Thursday afternoon and had originally given midnight as the deadline. Nothing happened until the morning. By that time, all tents and tarps had been dismantled except these sixm and demonstrators had encircled them. One person – 22-year-old Darinel Martinez – was arrested for refusing to obey a police order (“get out of the tent”).
Once the tents had been removed, two more instantly jumped up. The police backed off and created a perimeter around the Plaza just north of City hall. From there the stand-off lasted a few hours until around 1pm, at which point, police again moved in – but this time with more viciousness.
As police came up on the demonstrators who had linked arms around the remaining tents, a number were pepper-sprayed and aggressively man-handled by officers. One blond male officer in particular can been seen in video taken of the incident coming from behind several people, and reaching around and inserting the canister directly in people’s faces and spraying. Several screams can be heard and you can see people hurl themselves to the ground, covering their eyes.
And another occupier was arrested during this process – 39-year-old Paul A. McCullough -, which meant that by mid-afternoon, a total of two had been detained – an African-American man and a Mexican-American male. During a general assembly meeting, money was collected for their bail, and by late afternoon, over $400 had been raised.
Once the dust had settled from the mid-day confrontation, the stand-off continued into the afternoon. From the GA a few people were selected to approach the police to learn what they would need in order to withdraw the dozens of officers that appeared to be at the scene.
During a meeting between top police officers and the demonstrators’ representatives, the police agreed to allow the one tent to remain, the one food table to remain, but no new tents or other equipment would be allowed in the Plaza.
Also, and this is a big one – for the first time – the police were now saying demonstrators could not sleep at the site. A permitted dance event is coming to the Plaza on Saturday.
The 150 to 200 demonstrators continued to discuss options and where to go. A number of speakers who advocated staying in the Plaza were cheered.
Sensing an opening for a compromise, advocates for the assembled demonstrators once again approached the police. Attorney Ben Cooper – who had been assisting the legal committee and the legal observers – found a case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – Jones vs. City of Los Angeles that was very pertinent. The case stands for LA being forced to overturn their ban on public sidewalk sleeping.
Apparently, when faced with this precedent, the ranking police officer at the scene, Asst. Police Chief Boyd Long then offered a compromise: sleep in the Plaza tonight with sleeping bags which have to be removed by 6 am.
When this was reported to the assembled crowd of occupy activists, they cheered. It was a deal!
Earlier in the day, a minor stand-off had also occurred when the IBEW delivered boxes and bags to the occupy protest and was initially blocked by police at the edge of the Plaza. A small group ran up to the blocked food, chanted “Food is a right!” – grabbed the food and returned to the Plaza, where it was distributed.
Besides the stand-offs, the pepper-sprayings and arrests, Occupy San Diego demonstrators were upset with police for other reasons. They had prevented any deliveries of food and supplies to Tuna Park – the Midway aircraft location where occupiers were holed up. Also, police had been less than candid in recommending the Marston Point area in southwest Balboa Park for demonstrators to assemble as an alternative to the Plaza. The road to the area is gated each night, nearby restrooms are not open, and a community of homeless call the area their home.
As the Occupy activists regroup, they will be joining a peace march on Saturday, Oct. 15th, that will end up at the Civic Center Plaza at about 2pm, having come down from a southwest Balboa Park rally spot along Sixth Avenue.