by Jeff Gore
During the first week of the Orlando occupation, one of the most common sentiments expressed by its participants was that our city’s police officers, unlike those in other cities with active Occupy movements, were not only reasonable, but even “wonderful.” On the morning of Oct. 15, for instance, when the occupation was kicked off with a thousand-strong march through downtown, Orlando police chief Paul Rooney was invited to speak on the same stage upon which protestors had been railing against the status quo. At the end of his brief talk, Rooney advised the protestors to respect the closing hours at Senator Beth Johnson Park, where some activists declared their intention to stay indefinitely--or in other words, to occupy. When he walked off stage, the crowd applauded and cheered.
It’s hard to think all of that took place only eleven days ago. Earlier this evening, about 60 Occupy Orlando protestors marched from Senator Beth Johnson Park towards City Hall, and after arriving, unveiled a new chant: “What do we want? Our flag! When do we want it? Now!” Just after midnight this morning, the group’s American flag was taken from the park by Orlando police, an event to which activists reacted by singing the national anthem. Occupiers had already cleared the public property of most of their personal belongings—just as they complied last week to take down their village of tarp structures—but they say that a “deal” struck between their attorney, Shayan Elahi, and the city should have allowed the group to leave shared items like tables, an electricity generator, and a flag onsite 24 hours a day. But instead, all of these things were confiscated. “It was self-evident that there was a deal in place,” says Elahi, mentioning three previous nights in which Occupy Orlando left its things at the park with no complaints from police. “It seems like OPD is challenging the Mayor’s office and not listening to what they want to coordinate.”
OPD, however, has taken pains to deny this. “The City never had a written agreement to allow the group to leave their belongings in the park,” reads a statement issued today by Orlando police.
Elahi says that the agreement was an “informal” one discussed with assistant city attorney Austin Moore. The city’s chief attorney, Mayanne Downs, could not be reached to verify Elahi’s comment. (According to OPD, beginning tomorrow occupiers will be be able to recover their items at police headquarters during business hours.)
With the apparent nullification of any agreement with the city—real or imagined—the occupation has been pushed into its most uncomfortable position thus far. Some activists wishing to stay near the park overnight have resorted to sleeping in a three-foot-wide sliver of grass between the park’s border (a sidewalk) and South Ivanhoe Boulevard. Though they had not previously slept inside the park, some occupiers had tents set up across the street on a grass lot next to a decrepit WDBO building. Yet that land is private property, and not long after 19 activists were arrested for trespassing on Oct. 22, police evicted protestors from “Occupy 2.0” and taped off the area. (Elahi says that 19 separate attorneys will be assigned to represent the 19 activists, who are all out of jail.)
Still, the group continues to hold its daily general assemblies, and since its inception on Oct. 15 it has made appearances not only at City Council meetings, but at public forums as inglorious as a union contract negotiation between LYNX and its bus drivers held yesterday afternoon. As William Lawson, a young member of the occupation’s media team, puts it: “We’re just trying to be the most intelligent annoyance we can be.”