The exit strategy for Occupy Portland from three downtown parks was laid out this morning at City Hall. Portland Mayor Sam Adams was joined by Police Chief Mike Reese and Parks Commissioner Nick Fish. The city will close Chapman Square, Lownsdale Square and Terry Schrunk Plaza at midnight Saturday. Anyone who doesn't leave will be arrested and all property will be cleared out of the public spaces. Repairing the land could take several months.
Mayor Adams cited two very serious drug overdoses that needed resuscitation, an arrest in the firebombing of the World Trade Center, other violent acts and crime. He said he could not wait for someone to die, that the city has to act now. Adams added that this is not an action against the movement, saying they've highlighted the challenges many across the country are facing. He also would not apologize for how he handled the protest, citing the need to balance free speech versus rights. The mayor directed the homeless and needy to call 2-1-1 for help.
Police Chief Mike Reese said he was proud of how everyone responded in challenging times and that officers will be very clear of their intentions leading up to the deadline. He would not discuss tactics.
Protesters gathered outside City Hall, where the doors were locked and guarded
Since Occupy Portland began five weeks ago, I have been very clear in my objective: We must balance people’s rights to free speech, with keeping the city safe and moving. From the beginning, behavior has mattered.
We have maintained our balance through day-to-day decisions regarding Occupy Portland. While the Constitution requires city governments to facilitate speech by citizens, city governments also have the authority and responsibility to regulate associated behaviors on behalf of the general public.
In the past few days, the balance has tipped: We have experienced two very serious drug overdoses, where individuals required immediate resuscitation in the camp. As has been widely reported, police have arrested a suspect in Tuesday night’s disturbing Molotov cocktail incident. Crime, especially reported assaults, has increased in the area in and around the camps. This is in addition to the health and sanitation issues that the camp’s close quarters have brought about.
Occupy has had considerable time to share its movement’s messages with the public, but has lost control of the camps it created. The cost to the larger community is rapidly increasing.
Now, the City of Portland finds itself at a turning point.
The City will soon temporarily close Lownsdale and Chapman Squares to the public, to put an end to safety, health and crime problems, and to repair the park land. When the City re-opens the parks, the City will enforce all park and criminal laws in the Squares and the sidewalks, and the park land will be available for large, organized speech events by permit.
At 12:01 am on Sunday, November 13, all persons and property in Lownsdale and Chapman Squares will again be subject to enforcement of all laws including the laws against being in a park after midnight (PCC 20.12.210), and erecting structures in a park (PCC 20.12.080). On or after November 13, by authority of Portland City Code, the City will close Lownsdale and Chapman Squares for repair and to remediate any remaining safety, health and crime problems.
Portland Police are carefully preparing for this closure, and share my goal for an orderly and peaceful closure to the camps.
I want to make it clear that this action is not an action against the Occupy Portland movement.
In fact, the Occupy Portland movement has highlighted the challenges our community, like many across the country, are facing with homelessnesss. Too many in our community are without a safe place to call home. Despite fiscal challenges, the City has continued to invest in long term solutions to end homelessness. Commissioner Fish and I will be working closely with our dedicated network of service providers to make sure everyone at the camp is aware of the resources that are available. Experienced outreach workers will be reaching out to the homeless people at the camp to help them access existing resources in our community, like health care, emergency shelter, permanent housing placement assistance, and short term needs.
I have said from the beginning that I believe the Occupy movement would have to evolve in order to realize its full potential.
It is my sincere hope that the movement, with its focus on widespread economic inequity, will flourish in its next phase—a phase where we can focus all of our energies on economic and social justice, not on port-a-potties and tents. I believe Occupy Portland can lead the nation in this next phase of the Occupy Movement, and I personally look forward to working with participants toward their broader goals.
I also want to extend my thanks to: Occupy Portland participants, who by and large are non-violent, peaceful, and dedicated to the larger vision of this movement; Occupy’s appointed liaisons, who have worked hard to communicate clearly with City and Police officials; Our city’s unions, who have stepped in to help with sanitation issues in the camp; Social service providers and first responders, for the support they’ve provided to the camp’s most vulnerable population.
I also want to thank my council colleagues and their staffs, for their assistance in troubleshooting the day-to-day issues we’ve faced along the way, and the men and women of the Portland Police bureau, who have worked tirelessly to facilitate these unprecedented events in a peaceful and professional manner.
And to the broader community, I thank you for your understanding and support of the approach we have taken to balancing the right to free speech, with the need to keep our city safe and moving.