PORTLAND, ORE. — Early Tuesday morning, after reportedly consulting with decision makers in other parts of the country, Federal officials enlisted the help of Portland Police to remove Occupy Portland protesters from federally owned Terry D. Schrunk Plaza. The move came around 3:45 AM after most supporters had gone to sleep and news crews had left.
Look-outs for the protesters gave the camp warning about the coming officers using a drum signal, and the officers lined up on SW Madison Street, blocking protesters from exiting, then engaging them in dialogue. Shortly afterwards they arrested 10 people in the park, taking about 15 minutes to do so.
“The Federal government occupies 700 bases in 136 nations around the world,” Micaiah Dutt, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and one of the protesters arrested in Schrunk Plaza, said after. “But they refuse to allow us to peacefully assemble in a Federal park? I allowed myself to be arrested in order to make a statement.”
One of the individuals who moved to the park mentioned that they didn’t believe there was a valid Federal law to arrest them under, mentioning they were a law student. By late Sunday evening, people involved with Occupy Portland decided to set up tents in Schrunk Plaza due to the lack of available space in Chapman & Lownsdale Squares.
“We were running out of space at camp,” Illona Trogub, a protester who observed the arrests, commented. “Newly arriving politically-minded folk are unable to find a tent spot, which prevents committees from being refreshed by new energy and enthusiasm.”
Many Occupiers were skeptical about what Federal law was being violated. When asked directly, no enforcement agency or representative was able to provide an answer, leaving it an open question. The arrestees were given a citation for “failing to comply with a lawful direction” and released without any other action taken.
“Does that mean that they were arrested for not doing what they were told instead of for violating a law?” Jordan LeDoux wondered afterward. “That’s not the sort of thing you expect in this country.”
The situation is further muddled by the recent decision of a Federal Judge in Nashville, TN, to issue a restraining order against a curfew ordinance. Judge Aleta Trauger said she issued the order because the curfew was a “clear prior restraint on free speech rights.”
“The didn’t give a Miranda warning, nor did they tell us why we were being arrested,” Former U.S. Marine Sgt. Micaiah Dutt recounted. “They said, ‘because you were being blatantly illegal, there was no need for explanation.’ After that we were taken to Hatfield Courthouse.”
The arrestees found out their charge when they were handed their citation, and were told that their court date was set for January.
As with Jamison Square, Occupy Portland believes that the First Amendment provides people with legal protection to peacefully assemble in political protest at any time of the day in any public space. The vagueness of the charges and the lack of specific statutes being violated lends some credibility to that position, at least in the Federal park.
At Occupy Albany, NY, the police refused an order to arrest from the Governor and the Mayor on the grounds that it was a violation of law, and that it was necessary to public safety.
“Freedom to assemble was put into our Constitution so that people could come together and talk about what’s wrong, then figure out solutions,” Ms. Trogub said. “How does an anti-camping ordinance supersede that right? If we don’t have that right, how are the people supposed to participate? How do we fix anything?”