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Police evict Occupy Tucson from downtown park

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Police evict Occupy Tucson from downtown park

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Tucson police ordered Occupy Tucson protesters from a downtown park Wednesday night.

About 100 protesters removed tents and personal belongings from Veinte de Agosto Park as officers looked on.

There was one arrest for a park curfew violation, making a total of 827 arrests since the protest began Oct. 15.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor told demonstrators around 7 p.m. that they had to vacate, giving them until 10:30 p.m. to clear the park or face arrest.

Protesters had the park itself cleared within two hours, and dozens of police officers looked on as they organized the movement of tents, backpacks and duffel bags from where they were hurriedly stacked on the sidewalk.

About 60 officers were deployed to evict the Occupiers, said TPD spokesman Matt Ronstadt.

A lawyer for the Occupiers credited TPD for handling the situation peacefully, but expressed frustration about the communication between police and protesters.

"They didn't send out the riot squad; there's no tear gas, pepper spray. That's always a good thing, but I certainly think there could have been a better use of all these resources," said attorney Paul Gattone.

McClusky reserved park

The move, coming after a 48-day encampment at the park and a previous camp that began at Armory Park in October, was spurred by a park reservation, the police chief said.

Watching the clear-out from across Church Avenue, Villaseñor said "we have to clean the park up, we have to assess it" before allowing another group in.

"We're not going to do that on Christmas Day," he said, explaining the timing of the eviction notice.

Shaun McClusky, a Republican who failed to obtain enough signatures to appear on his party's last mayoral primary ballot and frequent critic of the Occupy movement, plans a "Take Care of Tucson" food drive at both Veinte de Agosto and De Anza parks on Dec. 28.

"Someone else when through the process, got their permit, did what they were supposed to do," the police chief said, declining to speak on camera.

Some Occupiers had more pointed comments on McClusky's move to force them out by renting the park, which he'd openly pondered on his Facebook page for weeks.

"I don't want to say 'chickenshit,'" Occupier and Green Party member Dave Croteau said.

"At the same time, I don't want to give (McClusky) anything to think he's moved us. We intend to continue to take issue with our government. We need to address a lot of grievances. Those grievances haven't gone away," he said.

"I did it the right way, he didn't. I win," McClusky said when interviewed by phone.

"I'm doing this food drive to help the community," McClusky said. "Sure, it's a double-edged sword" that led to the protesters' eviction.

"Did I know what the end result was going to be? Of course," he said.

McClusky called the Occupy camp "an eyesore" that had to go before the influx of Gem Show visitors.

"Is that the image you want for your city?" he asked. "I'm not against the whole protest, its the way they did it."

"There are issues that need to be resolved," he said of the Occupiers' message about the economy. "But throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a park — that didn't work."

Some protesters said they would return to the park to assist with the "Take Care of Tucson" event. McClusky said he would welcome their help.

"The Community Food Bank shelves will be bare come Dec. 25," he said, saying that the organization serves 3 times as many people monthly as two years ago.

McClusky hopes to have 40,000 pounds of food donated, he said.

Police 'walked fine line'

"Everywhere these (Occupy camps) have been going on, with time they've somewhat deteriorated," Villaseñor said Wednesday night over the roar of generators powering floodlights brought in by the city.

The chief cited an aggravated assault with a handgun, a report of child abuse and about 40 other incidents where police were called to the site as reasons it should be closed.

Villaseñor declined to detail those incidents, citing ongoing investigations.

"The total cost to the city has topped $170,000, with police and courts and all," he said.

"I think we have shown that we are understanding of the Constituional protection of freedom of speech," he said.

"I think we took the right path because we have people on both sides of the issue upset with us — people who think we've been too lenient and people who think we've been too stringent," he said.

"We're trying to balance the protected rights that people have under the Constitution, but you also have to look at the welfare of the people here and the city as a whole. I think we've walked that fine line," he said.

Villaseñor said the protesters would be allowed to sleep on the sidewalk overnight, as long as they left a "five-foot thoroughfare." Police were not allowing them to keep tents, chairs, coolers or other large items on the sidewalk.

Only a handful of demonstrators indicated they planned to spend the night on the sidewalk.

Park left clean within hours

Villaseñor credited the Occupiers for quickly tidying the camp. The dozens of tents were removed within a couple of hours, and the park's grass left clear of debris.

"They do a good job of cleaning up. We have no complaints about that," he said.

As demonstrators swept the sidewalk, cleaned tables and picked up stray bits of litter, Croteau praised their efforts.

"I am very proud of the fact that when we need to move, we can leave it better than we found it," he said.

Lady Liberty arrested

While a few protesters harangued the police during the move-out, others shushed them, saying "They're only doing their jobs."

"They're part of the 99 percent too. They work for a living like everybody else," one Occupier said, calming another.

There was one arrest Wednesday.

Melissa Tibbals-Gribben, 47, walked to a group of boulders in the center of the park and stood atop them, posed like the Statue of Liberty with her arm in the air.

As onlookers chanted "We are the 99 percent" a group of officers surrounded Tibbals-Gribben and restrained her hands behind her back.

They walked her across the street and eventually placed her in a police van and took her to jail.

She had already received dozens of tickets, Gattone said.

Tibbals-Gribben "would get her ticket every night and then go home. She was dedicated," said another member of the Occupy Tucson legal team, Erin Whitfield.

Tibbals-Gribben was the 827th person arrested at Occupy Tucson for breaking park curfews, police records show.

After the protesters were forced from Armory Park on Nov. 3, they moved to Veinte de Agosto.

Before the move, the number of Occupiers arrested nightly dropped from dozens or more to a handful.

Both police and Occupiers said that as time passed, many protesters stopped spending the night at the camp — especially those who had racked up numerous citations for remaining past the park closing time.

Instead, many of the camps' tents held the homeless and mentally ill, seeking the meager shelter of a nylon enclosure over sleeping on the streets.

"Most of the people we've arrested lately aren't people who are associated with the Occupy movement, but are here because there's a tent to sleep in," TPD's Ronstadt said.

'Smashing success'

While the encampment has ended — at least for the moment — the Occupiers are satisfied that their demonstration has not gone unnoticed.

"I'm disappointed we haven't been able to establish a freedom of speech zone," Croteau said. But the movement will continue, and there are contingency plans to continue the Occupy camp elsewhere, he said.

Croteau declined to elaborate on those plans.

Occupy Tucson has been a "smashing success," Gattone said.

The protesters "occupied these spaces for 7-8 weeks, (and) brought a lot of attention to the issue of corporate influence and economic inequality," he said.

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