With the Occupy SLC movement evicted from Pioneer Park, their protest camp of over a month, dozens of members of the anti-Wall Street movement made impassioned pleas to the Salt Lake City Council during a public-comment period of the city’s Redevelopment Association meeting Tuesday night.
The hearing was an unusual concession as comment was generally only reserved for RDA business, but the city allowed the opportunity for the uprooted Occupiers to address the city’s handling of their eviction from Pioneer Park last Saturday, after police discovered a homeless member of the camp had died late Friday morning. The deceased man was believed to have died from a combination of a drug overdose as well as carbon monoxide poisoning from having a propane heater inside his tent. While protesters mourned his death and held a vigil for him that evening, by sunset the next day the occupiers were evicted from the park. Tents and belonging were bulldozed and trashed and 18 occupiers had been arrested. The eviction happened peacefully, and those arrested were released that night and only faced misdemeanor charges.
The public comment was marked by the occasional outburst and exuberant applause for members who spoke before the council. Occupy SLC members also showed their agreement by “twinkling” their support -- by holding hands up and wiggling their fingers -- a form of camp communication developed for the group’s meetings. Occupy SLC organizer Peter Lister challenged the city for using the tragedy of the death of a homeless member of the camp to justify squelching the group’s protest.
“We felt the reasons offered for evicting Occupy SLC out of Pioneer Park from Mayor Becker’s office were a bad-faith pretext,” Lister said, “a pretext happening all over the United States.We had attempted a good-faith dialogue with the city but instead we were scapegoated and dismissed.”
Raphael Cordray, a small-business owner who had camped out in the Park since October 6, decried the city’s eviction and demolition of the camp as bulldozing her right to free speech. Cordray and her partner complained that police had thrown their bicycles into a pile ready to be hauled off. Later, she watched a bulldozer scoop up her uncollected tent and belongings. “When I see my possessions scooped up by a dump truck, it has a chilling effect on my free speech,” Cordray said.
Deb Henry asked the council to respect her wish as a taxpaying resident to allow her to camp in the park. She said the death of the homeless camp member would have gone unnoticed without the presence of the Occupy SLC camp. “I want our camp to be visible because everyone forgets how bad the homeless problem is,” Henry said, citing dozens of homeless deaths over recent years that “never got any press until the Occupy people were around.”
As of yet, the city has not made any signs of budging from the position adopted on Nov. 11, when it reversed its stance on allowing the overnight camping as a form of protest. Citing the public-safety concerns following last week's death, the city outlawed all overnight camping for the Occupy group, including at a second site that recently had made camp close to the downtown financial district in Gallivan Plaza.