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Guest Editorial

Right of Way

Eviction of Occupy SLC is a loss for community

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Posted // November 23,2011 -

I thought I knew what community was. If I’m midway through a cookie recipe and I need a cup of sugar, I have nice neighbors from whom I can borrow. That’s community, right? Well, I don’t think so anymore; that’s just not enough. Occupy Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park tent assembly—prior to the eviction and subsequent police raid of Nov. 12—taught me that community is so much more than borrowing sugar. I’m still mourning the community we lost at the hands of a city administration that crumpled our civil rights like our tents in their front loader.

Occupy SLC’s Pioneer Park assembly was a victim of its own success. While pickets outside banks might give them an itch, far more threatening to the oppressor is publicizing the brutal reality of those who are most oppressed. One hundred twelve individuals died in Salt Lake City in 2009 and 2010 due to homelessness-related issues, but hardly anyone with a home knew or really cared until the lifeless body of one man—our friend Mike, who’d had serious difficulties—was found in a tent among Occupy SLC.

Regardless of the cause of his death—which is not yet known despite Police Chief Chris Burbank’s disrespectful presumptions—suddenly the entire Wasatch Front press corps wanted to know: What happened? How could this happen? These are important questions we should ask after every death of a poor person whose death may have been preventable.

Though we’re more committed than ever as an organization, Mayor Ralph Becker squashed an important aspect of our work. We relied on each other constantly—for food, for blankets, for dignity when the rest of the world is disrespectful, and for an embodiment of the Declaration of Independence, which states “all (wo)men are created equal.” The only egalitarian community I’ve ever known was destroyed by Becker and Burbank—and a piece of my heart went with it.

On Nov. 12, a great threat of violence was embodied in the line of police vehicles taking up the entire block between 300 West and 400 West, tear-gas launchers on officers’ belts, ridiculously unneeded demolition equipment and a police chopper—all to evict patently peaceful “campers.” Many Occupiers and others in the park had no other home besides Pioneer Park and had not had enough time to find transportation or storage for their property. Many fled before or when police arrived, sometimes in a panic—their property was seemingly trashed by police. In the face of that tyrannical machine, I felt I had our forefathers whispering in our ears, saying, “This is what assembly looks like. You have a right to it. Fight for your tents!” We did so, peaceably. I was arrestee number 13—jailed for setting up a tent.

Our First Amendment right to assemble was violated. Under the auspices of public-safety and public-health concerns, Mayor Becker and Chief Burbank chased us all out of the park and arrested 19 of us. By collectively punishing the entire group for perceived public-health and safety concerns presented by some individuals, they violated our Fourth Amendment rights by abandoning individualized suspicion. The raid was also a sneak attack: On Tuesday, the police chief and cheerful subordinates were all but giving us a group hug as they showed us to Gallivan Plaza where some activists would be allowed to set up tents. By Friday, those cheerful cops were lacing up their jackboots, and by Saturday, arresting us and stealing our property. The timing and duplicity violated our rights of due process and our rights to be secure in our persons and property—more Fourth Amendment violations.

The system that funded this theatrical show of force, realigned and refocused, could provide funds to help the people who presented public-safety and public-health concerns at Occupy SLC—rather than scatter them across the valley, where they will not be seen and cannot be organized.

No one at Occupy SLC denied our Pioneer Park community had problems—your community has problems, too. It’s just that walls probably separate you from your neighbors, forcing you and/or allowing you to ignore your neighbors’ sexual abuse, domestic violence and drug abuse. In our tent community, there were no thick walls between people—and one’s personal issues (like a kind, alcoholic veteran experiencing nighttime screaming fits of PTSD) sometimes became everyone’s issue. That is community as I now understand it—it’s intimate and sometimes inconvenient, and it was too much to bear for some people who didn’t want to be so exposed. For many others of us, however, it was enriching.

But to be enriched by it, one had to realize that anytime one welcomes and genuinely enfranchises all people—including the most downtrodden and sick—one faces social problems like untreated mental-health issues and substance abuse that have been left to fester for decades. Don’t blame the victim: Fight the real enemy.

From Oct. 6 to Nov. 12, we occupied Pioneer Park, and I’m incredibly proud of our work there. Our Occupation of Salt Lake City continues at Gallivan Plaza, but few among us trust this duplicitous administration to stand by its word to allow those few tents to remain.

Tell Mayor Becker that Salt Lake City should restore Occupy SLC’s right to assemble—all day, all week, in tents, with a kitchen in the park. We were building community, which uplifts the lives of the 99 percent. And without community, we won’t have a chance at toppling the top 1 percent of wealth holders who oppress us all.

Jesse Fruhwirth is a former City Weekly reporter and an active member of the Occupy movement.

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Posted // November 28,2011 at 15:58 Occupy Oakland intends to hold constant, legal, vigil at Frank Ogawa plaza in lieu of camping there. Looks like they'll begin tomorrow (11-29).

Perhaps, in lieu of camping, and instead of just quitting, Occupy Pioneer Park would consider something similar, as I've previously suggested? I believe permission by city officials has already been granted for such a thing to occur. It may not be exactly what you want, but who in this world ever gets exactly what they want?


Posted // November 28,2011 at 11:28 Hi Jesse,

Just a few questions for you (or anybody else that was fully entreched at Occupy Pioneer Park), if you don't mind answering. I've no intention of debating, either way, as debating this issue seems to be completely pointless. I've been very curious about all this and hope to grab some answers from somebody in the know. I'm after averages when applicable as I understand there's no way you could provide exact numbers.

By the time you were shut down, what percentage of people at Occupy Pioneer Park would you say were homeless?

How many of the homeless moved from shelters to the park once you began providing for them?

Are you aware if any of the homeless permanently left apartments or other dwellings in order to join Occupy Pioneer Park?

How did Occupy Pioneer Park meet their (the homeless) varied needs beyond feeding them?

How did you guys pay for the food and supplies needed to support Occupy Pioneer Park?

What was your approximate daily monitary expenditure for the encampment?

Approximately what percentage of people at Occupy Pioneer Park provided funds for the cause?

What "work" was it that you guys did at the park while occupying it?

If you were to be allowed to live at the park again, what would your primary goals be? What would you hope to accomplish by camping in the park and how would you do it?

I'll understand if you don't feel like answering. I'm sure these questions are annoying but just in case, thanks in advance, Jesse. Take care.


Posted // November 29,2011 at 11:54 - Fuck it. I'll stop trying.


Posted // November 28,2011 at 15:22 - I would like to know the answers to those questions too. In addition I would like to know the benefit of picketing in front of the police station on a Sunday when very few people are there or driving by or how the police is part of the 1%? How many times did you meet with financial leaders to provide concrete solutions to the country or even Salt Lake citizen's financial problems, and if you did - what were those solutions? Why are we hearing about those types of encounters instead of the police scooped up my tent filled with feces?


Posted // November 26,2011 at 14:49 I read this after Black Friday, where I see people camping on public property, setting up tent on the sidewalks. As they do on the 24th of July here in SLC.
Occupy is a peaceful endeavor.
I knew when the police and mayor were all lovey dovey one day that they would turn their faces against us on another day!


Posted // November 26,2011 at 13:09 The right to assemble is not the right to camp out in a public park! Allowing to protest to make camp in a public park was wrong from the outset. Protest all you want -- but don't set up a tent in a public park and sleep there. Doing so prevents the public from enjoying the park. If you want to camp, go to a camp ground.


Posted // November 27,2011 at 00:24 - I suppose if City Council changed the laws to enable the camp just as it was in Pioneer Park then you'd be all for it and your objections would evaporate? Try this: what if marital law were imposed such that it was illegal to have any assembly--even daytime non-camping pickets. Would you blindly support such oppression because it's the law? Question the legitimacy of laws. Make up your own mind.