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Occupy conference rejects city permit after confrontation with police results in 15 arrests, 2 hurt

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March, 16, 2012 - UPDATE: The Occupy the Midwest's General Assembly announced Friday night that it has voted to reject the special permit issued by the city of St. Louis that would allow participants in Occupy's four-day regional conference to convene 24/7 in the northern block of the Gateway Mall, between 15th and 16th streets, across from the U.S. Post Office.

The permit states that 8-10 tents can be erected for hospitality purposed but it would not, however, allow Occupiers to use the tents or the block -- dubbed "Freedom Park" for sleeping.

“The Occupy the Midwest General Assembly voted not to OccupyFreedom Park for several reasons,” says Chuck Witthaus of Occupy St. Louis in a statement.

“First, we seek to 'Occupy' public space in order to provide housing for conference participants. This permit does not meet our needs and is a limitation on our right to free speech and assembly. 

"Second, we believe it is unfair for one individual to sign a permit, leaving them responsible for the actions of hundreds. Third, we do not trust the actions or motives of the city or the police after their brutal attack on non-violent Occupiers Thursday night.”

All but two of the 15 people Thursday night have been released on bond. 

According to the Occupy statement: "The two demonstrators still being held are both charged with misdemeanor assault; one is also facing a felony charge of unlawful use of aweapon. Two Occupiers were brutally assaulted by police during the arrests, andwere hospitalized for their injuries."

"All witnesses of the arrests indicate the assault andweapons charges are false, and no police officers reported injuries of any kind."

“We condemn the St. Louis Police Department, Eddie Roth, director of Public Safety, and Mayor Slay for directing police officers to violently attack peaceful demonstrators,” says William Smith of Occupy St.Louis. “The Occupy the Midwest Conference will continue as scheduled, with educational events and actions highlighting the plight of the 99%, seeking new solutions to the problems of corporate greed, income inequality, and our broken political system.”

Earlier Friday, in an interview,  Roth cited the permit as a show of the city's good will, and its support for free speech. end update

As we reported earlier:

More than a dozen Occupy the Midwest participants were arrested late Thursday when police ousted more than 100 at an encampment that organizers of the four-day conference had set up in Compton Park.

According to the St. Louis Police Department, 15 were arrested, ranging in age from 21 to 54, because of the gathering's refusal to comply with the park's 10 p.m. curfew at the park.

Rachael Perrotta, with Occupy Chicago and one of the spokespeople for the conference, said in a telephone interview that police used pepper spray and tasers to force campers out of the park.

“We hoped to camp for just four days,’’ Perrotta said. “An overwhelming police presence rushed a nonviolent crowd.”

About 150 people were in the encampment when police arrived, she said.

One activist video-recorded the confrontation and posted it on the web.

At least two people were injured, Perrotta said. 

Police confirmed the two injuries and said in a statement that, after being advised they had to vacate the park, "protesters became unruly and began yelling and cursing at police. ... The large crowd of protesters then walked into the intersection of Grand and Russell, which prevented the north and southbound lanes of traffic of Grand from moving."

Police also confirmed that a window was smashed on a police cruiser.

Update: Roth, who was present during the removal, contended that it was the Occupy activists -- not police -- who acted inappropriately. "It was about 15-20 minutes of chaos. It was demonstrator chaos," he said.

Roth added, however, that he believed most Occupy activists have been acting responsibly. End update.

On Friday, Perrotta said that Occupy activists “will most likely go and rally outside the jail downtown.”

Alternative temporary housing, some indoor and some outside, has been found for people who had been camping in Compton Park, she said. Perrotta declined to give locations, citing concern about security.

“Our conference is certainly going forward,’’ she added. All the scheduled activities would continue, including protests outside Peabody Energy downtown and Monsanto Co.

Earlier Thursday, about 100 participants in the Occupy the Midwest conference had gathered at Kiener Plaza, participated in a demonstration against Bank of America, which has a branch downtown, and then marched to the Gateway Arch for a rally.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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