Occupy Denver: Police arrest homeless vet Billy Reno for raising a tent

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Billy Reno.
Wednesday night featured the third round of busts involving Occupy Denver, although the arrestee list increases by only one man: Billy Reno, a 49-year-old homeless veteran and recent Westword profile subject. As increasingly colder temperatures drive the campsite toward more desperate measures to guarantee warmth, the group organized a movement to reinstate tents despite police warnings. At around 7:15 p.m., Reno (real name William Hall) was dragged from his red tent into one of eight waiting cop cars.

The mass mobilization began at 4 p.m., though "mass" might be an overstatement. About eighty people attended the call to arms, and four tents were originally set up. However, only fifty people and that single red tent remained toward the end. Around fifteen members of the Denver Police Department arrived on the scene around 6:30 p.m. with eight police cars and a firetruck in tow. Firefighters focused solely on an open barbecue pit set up for protesters to warm their hands.

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Kelsey Whipple
Billy Reno erects a tent in Civic Center Park.
When the police reached the camp, their announcement was direct and resigned. "I'm not negotiating anymore," Sergeant Jeff Hausner told the gathering. "I've been here the past couple nights, and I've told you the rules against structures, and now you've put another one up. I'm not warning you guys anymore. It's coming down."

During the ten minutes that followed, all but Reno took down their tents, while the veteran settled in to await the police. For the first time in two years, Reno had received a new pair of glasses that morning -- at his own expense, he joked with the understanding that he would be arrested. "At least they won't be dragging a blind man out of that tent," he said. "I'm homeless, and I believe this is my home now. I'm wiling to defend it."

As protestors attempted to argue the situation with the police, Reno was given five minutes to remove himself peaceably from the tent, which he quickly refused. Discussion escalated between police and protesters to the point that both sides began to shut down communication.

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Kelsey Whipple
Denver Police officers arrest Billy Reno for violating an ordinance against structures in a city park.
"You are very uneducated about the law, and I'm tired of arguing with you," Officer K.J. Morrill told a protester, whose fellow occupiers responded in turn with jokes and threats at the expense of the police.

Although it was clear Reno intended to be arrested to raise awareness for the internal and physical climate of the occupation, few other volunteers felt likewise. (It is important to note that a handful of them would face felony charges because of past arrests.) In the moments before Reno was forcibly removed from his tent and dragged to a police car, a line of tourists walking through downtown passed directly in front of the situation without comment.

Reno's sole response to the police was the accusation that their citation was "unconstitutional" before a message from Occupy Wall Street reached the group via e-mail on a cell phone. The national father group asked for a show of solidarity with Occupy Oakland after the previous night's events. The display was scheduled for 7 p.m., only fifteen minutes later.

"When they come and take this man, let's begin chanting," one protester announced. From inside his tent, Reno began the chant, and it lasted until his arrest, when it was broken by accusatory shouts of "Shame!" at the officers.

After Reno's removal from the area, half of the group split off to march around the capital before returning to the same campsite -- one member and four tents down.

More from our Occupy Denver archives: "Occupy Denver: Five people hospitalized for exposure to the cold."

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4 comments
Michael Joseph Ferry
Michael Joseph Ferry

They can't have tents but those people NEED some warm clothes. Lots of people without gloves, some without shoes. Please, if you live downtown, take some extra jackets, shoes, gloves, socks, ANYTHING and drop them off at the donation table. They're currently trying to keep warm under tarps, and that just wont cut it.

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