UPDATE: The new Occupy Minneapolis encampment in front of Minneapolis City Hall had a much shorter life than the 61-day occupation of county property across the street. This morning, at about 9 a.m., Minneapolis police hauled away and arrested at least two protesters and ripped down a tent that had been set up on the sidewalk. Amid taunts of "the whole world is watching" and "this is what policy brutality looks like," the officers cuffed, carried and wrestled one heavyset young man into a squad car. A few minutes later, a man who said his name was David Alexander was handcuffed on the sidewalk at 3rd Avenue and 5th Street and placed in a squad car. Protesters had planned a news conference at 9 a.m. but instead got a noisy confrontation that the authorities had hoped to avoid.
That follows the action earlier this morning just across the street. Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies descended on the plaza outside the County Government Center at about 4:15 a.m. Thursday, dismantling and removing about 30 tents that had been erected by Wall Street demonstrators.
Protesters from the Occupy Minneapolis movement were pulled from the tents, but no protester was detained and no one was hurt.
The action by law deputies in the pre-dawn action was gentle but forceful, and the protesters remained peaceful. However, some of the protesters offered the deputies no help, sitting inside the tents. They had to be physically dragged out of them. In protest parlance, it is known as “civil disobedience.”
The deputies’ action early today was in sharp contrast to several protests around the country where there has been some violence in attempts to dismantle Occupy camps or halt demonstrators.
The protests have sprung up across the country in support of the original Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City that began in September to highlight what protesters say are the large inequities between the general population and the nation’s wealthiest.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek described the deputies’ actions today as “non-confrontational.”
He said county security staff, who are not members of the sheriff’s department, had walked among the protests during the night, repeatedly advising them that putting tents on the plaza violated country rules.
The security staff could have handed the protesters trespass notices, and deputies could have arrested them, but a decision was made not to arrest anyone this morning, Stanek said. “Unlike other cities, we don’t want a clash with law enforcement to be the focal point of the protesters,” he said.
Stanek said the cost of using deputies to police the Occupy Minneapolis protest since its inception in October totals $300,000, including $15,000 for this morning’s operations. Minneapolis police have also been keeping cost totals, but have not updated them recently.
The Minneapolis occupation began Oct. 7, so Thursday marks the end of the eight weeks on the plaza.
By 4:30 a.m., all the tents on the plaza had been taken down and carried away by deputies to a flatbed truck that hauled the tents away.
The protesters had erected the tents on Wednesday night in defiance of a county rule that barred the demonstrators from putting them up.
The no-tent rule was reinforced by a decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle last week. Asked by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota to issue a temporary restraining order against the county’s rules, Kyle instead sided with the county, allowing the no-tent rule to stand. He did reject the county’s rule, barring the demonstrators from putting up protest signs.
A light snow fell during the night and there were about 75 demonstrators on the plaza , some of them standing around but many of them asleep when the deputies, two abreast, marched in formation to the encampment.
The tents were set up on a corner of the county plaza at 4th Ave. and 5th St., across from Minneapolis City Hall.
“Mike check,” the protesters who were standing around, shouted, to try to alert the sleeping demonstrators.
Deputies encircled the tents, then one by one, pulled the protesters out of them, and dismantled each tent..
“We are the 99 percent,” the protesters chanted as the tents were taken down.
Jessica Sundin, a member of the Antiwar Committee, a local group that brought some of its members to the plaza on Wednesday night, said after she was pulled from one tent, she and others moved into other tents, and were pulled from those as well.
“The community spoke out loud and clear,” she said afterwards. “We want our tents.” She said the protesters had the right to peacable assembly.
The last person to be pulled from a tent was Dave Bicking, 61, a long-time activist, who had to be picked up by several deputies. “We have a right to be here,” he said afterwards. “I was willing to be arrested.” He had a smile on his face and said he was unhurt.
Another woman who refused to leave her tent was Sarah Martin, 72, long associated with peace protests. “I resisted,” she said. She said deputies grabbed her by the arms, and pulled her out. She also said she was not hurt.
After deputies left, about 50 demonstrators huddled, then went across 5th St. at about 5 a.m., and set up several tents on the sidewalk in front of city hall, where there is a statue of the late Hubert H. Humphrey, the one-time mayor of Minneapolis, who was also a U.S. senator and vice president of the United States. Some climbed in the tents and most of the others encircled it.
Because it is on a city sidewalk, and not the county plaza, the erection of tents becomes a city issue and if the city decides to stop it, it will be the responsibility of the Minneapolis Police Department.