Despite a weekend eviction and arrests, members of Occupy Austin continue to strategize and strengthen the movement. Specifically, Occupiers are taking aim at city and police officials for what they consider a breach of their free speech rights.
As the Texas Independent reported, Austin Police Department and city management forced the group to vacate City Hall Plaza on the night of Feb. 3, as per a new city policy. Members criticized APD and the city for giving them just one hour to exit, rather than, as some suggested, at least 24 hours notice. A handful of occupiers were arrested for criminal trespass charges, but were eventually released.
In the week leading up to the eviction, occupiers say they repeatedly asked city management to clarify the new rules in writing, a wish unmet by the city until the night of the arrests. While written orders and a timeline preceded previous Occupy Austin arrests made on Halloween night the recent raid did not, Occupiers point out. “Any statement from the City of Austin claiming that Occupy Austin had notice of full eviction since Monday is blatantly false and we have the records to prove it,” a statement from Occupy reads.
Now, Occupiers are fighting back against what they see as unconstitutional actions by APD and the city. In a letter sent to city officials this week, Occupy members voiced their concerns regarding the eviction and set forth a list of demands, including a request to meet with the Mayor and City Council. The members are calling for the resignation of City Manager Marc Ott and Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald for “provoking a violent situation […] by lying to members of Occupy Austin as to what their (Ott & Mcdonald) directives were, and for authorizing multiple violations of constitutional rights.”
Recounting the Feb. 3 arrests and the following night’s silent March to End Homelessness– an event that attracted about four dozen police officers (but no arrests)– occupiers are condemning the use of taxpayer money on “frivolous and excessive APD presence.” They are requesting to see accounting and cost figures for APD, SWAT, and SRT teams on the night of the arrests and the subsequent day. They are additionally requesting an investigation into the new policy they see as a restriction of their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble.
Occupier Ronnie Garza says the movement is concentrating on strategies that directly address the decision to evict the members and the time given to do so.
“What we would like to see is the city managers and APD respond to what happened over the weekend,” said Garza. “Specific police officers laid hands on some of our members and older folks got hurt when arrested. This doesn’t seem to be good practice.”
A possible lawsuit is not out of the question, say members of the local Occupy Wall Street movement.
“There is definitely talk of litigation against the city and police, especially,” said Occupy Austin member Kit O’Connell. “We are putting a lot of options of the table right now.”
In their letter to city managers and council members, occupiers also listed the contributions made to the community including planting hundreds of native trees, the creation of public garden spaces and volunteering to feed, clothe and give to the city’s homeless.
“Even as a member of Occupy, I’ve been surprised by how resilient we’ve been so far,” said O’Connell. “A lot of Occupies in other cities have struggled after an eviction–we’re definitely facing challenges but we are facing them really well, in my opinion.”
Image: Occupy Austin (Trey Perry)