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City Clears Occupy Hartford Campsite; Protesters Vow To Continue Efforts

Police Chief: 'I Think They Have Lost Sight Of Their Objective… It's Time To Go.'

Jenna Carlesso

December 07, 2011

A nearly two-month encampment at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Broad Street came to a quiet end Tuesday after Occupy Hartford protesters, obeying an order from Mayor Pedro Segarra, folded up their tents and left.

Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said that the site was cleared to ensure public safety and that occupiers had lost sight of their original purpose. Anyone who did not comply with the order to leave by 6 p.m. Tuesday faced arrest, he said. But there were no incidents when Turning Point Park, as the protesters called it, was cleared.

The half-dozen rain-soaked occupiers still at the site at 6 p.m. were herded by police down the Broad Street sidewalks. They chanted, "You are the 99 percent," to the officers. Public works crews got busy cleaning the lot, loading debris into a city garbage truck and then a large garbage cart.

Colin Neary and Evan Fulton, University of Connecticut students who came from the main campus in Storrs to see the camp, were disappointed by the demise of the Occupy Hartford site.

"People just wanted to gather and peacefully speak their minds," said Neary, of South Windsor. "The eviction is unjustified and disheartening."

Earlier Tuesday, Roberts said that police were investigating one recent report of a sexual assault at the site and had received other complaints about drug use and petty crime. He said he didn't anticipate problems clearing the park, but police responded in force with about 20 patrol cars, just in case.

"It's becoming a nuisance to the entire community," Roberts said.

The handful of protesters who were at the encampment Tuesday morning held a meeting to discuss what they should do. One of them, Talon Evans of Michigan, said afterward that protesters were arranging to have a rental truck come by to pick up items owned jointly by the Occupy community. At the time, all that remained at the site were a few tents, some tables and chairs and the remnants of a small geodesic dome that had been constructed.

"It's pretty much a group consensus that no one wants to get arrested," Evans said. "If we have more bodies, we might be inclined to put up a resistance. If not, people are planning to leave."

Referring to the eight or nine people who were at the site when police arrived, Evans said: "It's not a good representation of the movement itself." He said he'd been camping there almost every night since late October.

JoAnne Bauer, who has been active in the protest, said that leaving the site will not end the Occupy Hartford movement and could re-energize it.

"It will not dissipate," she said. "This disbandment will probably bring new people into the movement. It's like a Hydra — you cut off a head and three more appear at that spot. That's what happened in other places where police have gone in to disband the camps."

She said she was surprised by the short notice of the eviction because protesters had been meeting with city officials about what steps they might take next.

Some protesters said there was a call for a rally of support at 3 p.m. near the encampment site, but nothing developed at the appointed time.

Roberts said that Segarra notified the protesters of his decision early Tuesday morning through a statement handed out by police officers.

Through the morning and into the afternoon, police cars lined Broad Street and Farmington Avenue. Roberts said that one woman, Rachel Hiskes, was arrested after she ignored an officer's instructions and entered the park.

Police initially prevented reporters from entering the park, citing public safety concerns while acknowledging that the park was calm. Small groups of journalists were eventually allowed in for limited amounts of time.

Both Segarra and Roberts said that the decision to vacate the site was motivated by reports of illegal activity, including reports of drug use and a sexual assault last Thursday. A woman who had been staying at the encampment for about two weeks told police that a man entered her tent after her husband had left and kissed and fondled her before fleeing.

Protesters at the site Tuesday said they called police Monday night after someone was noticed carrying a gun at the encampment. Police responded, but did not find the gun, the protesters said.

"I think they have lost sight of their objective," Roberts said. "It's become a mess, quite frankly. It's time to go."

Shortly before noon, Hartford police cruisers were parked end to end on each corner of the site.

At one point, a city dump truck backed up to the site. Police said that any materials or belongings left at the encampment after 6 p.m. would be thrown away.

John Venshimol of East Hampton, who has been involved in the movement, said that he wasn't staying overnight at the site and that the order to leave wasn't too surprising.

"We kind of knew it was coming," he said. "It's happening around the country. But I didn't think they would bring this many cops."

Evans said that some members were planning to return to the corner of Broad and Farmington after dark.

Bill Durso, who lives near the park and has taken food to protesters, said he has seen no problems and questioned the police response.

"It's a bit of overkill, don't you think?" Durso said. "I don't know why they think this is a horror show."

In a statement, Segarra said: "While I respect the right of every citizen to organize, petition and protest, the reports of violence and drug use have detracted from the original message of the movement."

The mayor said that he was requesting an orderly end to the encampment and that the Occupy Hartford members "consider thoughtfully the next phase of their social movement and proceed in a manner that productively heightens awareness of the economic disparities in this country."

Roberts said that the city would continue to monitor any effort to shift the occupation to a downtown skateboard park known as Heaven.

A half-dozen campers, who identified themselves as a splinter group from the original Occupy Hartford, attempted to occupy the skateboard park Friday before being asked to disperse. A woman who sprayed graffiti was charged with defacing public property, according to city officials.

Group members told city officials and police Friday that they were moving out of Turning Point Park over concerns about illegal behavior and violence, but later said that the skateboard park provided better protection from the elements and mud-soaked ground, was accessible to people with handicaps and easier to secure from outside visitors.

A member of the Occupy Heaven group said in an email Tuesday morning that it was trying to arrange a meeting with members of the city council for later this week or early next week to discuss granting access to the site.

Occupy Heaven's official comment on the behavior at Turning Point Park was: "Sexual assault, rape, violence, drug abuse, extortion, homelessness, etc. are already prevalent in our society. To find ourselves facing these issues in a camp in the city of Hartford is then no shock. How these problems are met and resolved should be a model for the society we would like to build."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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