City on Occupy Denver: "If a structure goes up today, it comes down today"
Last night's Occupy Denver eviction is unlikely to be the last one in the near future. In a statement on the subject, Mayor Michael Hancock supported the city's actions and cited the now commonly repeated concerns of public safety and access. Accompanied by new Police Chief Robert White, Hancock confirmed plans to follow the same steps in the future. "If it goes up today, it comes down today," White says.
Hancock began the press conference by narrating a summary of last night's events: "After several attempts to communicate with protesters," he said, the Denver Police Department made the decision to move in and remove the group's handmade forts -- defined by the city as 'encumbrances' -- in person. In all, last night's eviction marked a tense relationship between police and protesters, who set fire to some of their forts as officers closed in on the encampment. The wait to evict them "went on a day or two longer than it probably should have," Hancock says.
Video from last night's eviction:
After White met with a group of ten Occupy Denver representatives yesterday afternoon, he said he could tell demonstrators had no intention of taking down the tarp-covered shacks themselves.
"It was pretty obvious they were going to keep those encumbrances, but it's our duty to enforce those ordinances," White says. Although several media outlets reported police aggression against both protesters and press, White described the behavior of the officers as "calm and patient." For the time being, the DPD plans to station police officers in the park to guard against further city ordinance violations. "We will have a presence in the park as long as it's necessary."
As the press conference took place at the City & County Building, the scene one block away from it at Civic Center Park included three protesters and five police cars, two of which parked in the bus lane where protesters were controversially ticketed for stopping their cars to make donations only a month ago.
Kelsey Whipple Police Chief Robert White attended last night's eviction in person.
Although the most recent report from last night suggested four arrests, Hancock confirmed the final number at nine arrests, some of which include felony arson investigations.
At this point, the Denver Police Department has spent more than $400,000 in dealing with the local occupation, a number Hancock compared to the costs of running a library for a year ($350,000) or a recreation center for the same time span ($480,000). When asked about the city's long-term plan for a relationship with Occupy Denver, Hancock replied, "Our long-term plan is to keep doing what we've been doing."
In recent weeks, this has included recruiting outreach workers to visit the site and encourage homeless protesters to sleep at local shelters. In comparing Denver's occupation to its partners across the United States, Hancock said Denver's is smaller than others because the city has not allowed it to grow. This measurement comes from conference calls with other mayors, Hancock says, specifically mentioning Boston.
"Our parks are open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.," Hancock says. "We're even allowing them to sleep on the sidewalk as long as there's no blockage. The reality is we'd love to avoid these kind of engagements."
In addition to comments that the area was an "eyesore," a few journalists offered questions about the occupation's future in the city: How did things get to this point? Is this the last time?
"That's a question for the protesters," Hancock says.
More from our Occupy Denver archives: "Photos: Occupy Denver's latest eviction ends in flames, arrests and Tebowing."