Hennepin County says the demonstrators are welcome to stay, but their stuff must go.
Less than 12 hours after OccupyMPLS protesters on the Hennepin County Government Center plaza saw their tents swiftly dismantled by sheriff's deputies and police, county officials told the demonstrators that their tarps, blankets and other gear must be removed from the plaza by 10 a.m. Friday or it, too, will be hauled away.
The demonstrators knew they were risking arrest when they erected more than three dozen tents -- from wilderness-worthy to Disney-adorned -- on the northeastern corner of the plaza during a rally Wednesday evening. About 4:15 a.m. Thursday, authorities moved in, dragging the occupants out, dismantling the tents and hauling them away on a flatbed truck. No one was arrested in that action.
When the deputies left, protesters moved across the light-rail tracks to the sidewalk in front of Minneapolis City Hall. But at 9 a.m., police moved in, ripping down at least one tent and taking away two protesters in handcuffs.
The actions represented the most direct confrontations in the mostly peaceful two-month demonstration in solidarity with the anti-Wall Street movement, which began in September in New York City to highlight what protesters say are massive inequities between the nation's wealthiest and everybody else.
There could be more confrontations Friday when authorities try to remove the gear that the demonstrators have been using to sleep and sustain their occupation of what they call "the people's plaza."
"The plan is not necessarily to move the protesters off [the plaza]," county administrator Richard Johnson said Thursday evening. "We've asked them to remove the materials they have stowed there. If the protesters want to stay there, they are certainly welcome."
Carolyn Marinan, director of the county public affairs department, said the county is concerned about protesters spending the night on the plaza in frigid and possibly life-threatening conditions. Clearing the plaza of snow and ice is also a concern, she said, as is money. The county has incurred an additional $58,000 in overtime for security guards since the occupation began Oct. 7, she said.
"This is not a campground or a storage facility," she said. "This plaza is intended for ALL people to use. We are trying to be as respectful and as courteous as we can here and also maintain a public place that has rules just like any other space."
Nathan Thompson, 35, of St. Paul, with OccupyMPLS, said the demonstrators have consolidated their belongings many times and are now taking up just a strip of space on the west side of the plaza.
"I'm sure we can consolidate a little more. As far as I'm concerned, we're going to keep going."
Demonstrator Liz Dahl, 24, of St. Paul, said a federal judge ruled last week that "any personal items that were attended were not eligible to be removed from the plaza. I don't know where they're thinking they get their power to take our personal items," she said.