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Occupy camp, city at loggerheads on crime

Police, mayor say protest must address violent behavior
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Portland police are worried Occupy Portland protesters are assembling and storing Molotov cocktails at the camp site at Chapman and Lownsdale squares, like the one thrown Tuesday evening at the downtown World Trade Center.

With Portland police accusing unnamed Occupy Portland protesters of assembling and perhaps throwing Molotov cocktails at buildings, tensions are rapidly growing between the protesters and city officials who previously tolerated the camps spread across Chapman and Lownsdale squares.

Police cited 'unconfirmed reports' of the Molotov cocktails after one was thrown late Tuesday night at the nearby World Trade Center. Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese planned to discuss the escalating situation Wednesday.

Adams has allowed the camp to stay despite city rules against public camping. But late Monday, he released an open letter to the protesters saying the camp was 'not sustainable' and that 'the growing number of arrests and reports of illicit drug and alcohol use, violent behavior and other criminal conduct must be immediately addressed.'

In response, Sarah Morrigan, an Occupy Portland camper who has been there from the beginning, posted an online letter to Adams saying that many of the problems the mayor cited were caused by chronically homeless and mentally ill people that the city has not helped.

'We are in downtown Portland, within walking distances of shelters, social services and resources. They have been around as long as I know, and if it is not Lownsdale and Chapman parks, it is at the Waterfront Park and South Park Blocks,' wrote Morrigan, who identified herself as a resident coordinator.

Morrigan also accused the city of aggravating the problems at the camp by closing two public restrooms in the parks. The restrooms were closed after toilets became plugged and the Portland Business Alliance pulled its Clean and Safe workers assigned to them because of concerns for their safety. Portable toilets provided to the camp by a number of labor unions have occasionally leaked during use by the hundreds of campers in the two small parks.

Morrigan rejected Adams' insistence that Occupy Portland move on 'to the next phase' of its protest, a not-so-subtle request that the camp disband.

'Your letter attempts to encourage us to 'evolve' as a movement, presumably 'evolving' past the encampment. What you may call 'evolve,' I call 'disintegrate,' ' Morrigan wrote.

Businesses raise their voices

The mayor has been under pressure all week to take action on the camp; on Wednesday afternoon, Portland Business Alliance president Sandra McDonough told the Tribune she and her members wanted the camp to 'move on.'

"Our concern is the conditions in those parks are deteriorating," she told the Tribune. 'We're concerned about the safety - the sanitation concerns, drug use, alcohol. There are people who are mentally ill who should be getting services.'

McDonough said the crime at the camps - the Molotov cocktail, assaults and other incidents - is having a major impact on the public perception of downtown, although the other blocks of downtown besides those two haven't been affected.

'Everybody agrees that there was an initial message (for the Occupy movement), and it was overtaken,' she said. 'I talk to the mayors and others almost daily, urging them to find a resolution - a way to allow the Occupy people to express their messages in a way that is legal - like a permitted march' or other venue. 'But that illegal camp has got to move on.'

Protesters move into plaza

Portland police have also begun releasing daily updates of crime reports and arrests in and around the camp. Protesters dispute some of the claims, accusing the police of using the media to discredit them, perhaps as part of a plan to evict them from the parks.

Downtown business owners and organizations are also increasing their criticism of the city for allowing the camp to continue. Among others, the Portland chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association has complained that the city is not enforcing its own rules.

'We are disappointed that the city's reaction (and non-reaction) to the current Occupy movement goes too far in protecting the rights of those who are participating in the movement, while ignoring the much greater number of people whose rights are being unfairly trampled by it,' wrote Executive Director Susan Steward in a Nov. 3 letter to Adams.

The mayor's letter did not give Occupy Portland campers a deadline or threaten specific action if they did not leave the two public squares. Despite the mayor's concerns, campers are showing no sign of leaving. In fact, several tents and protesters have appeared at Terry Schrunk Plaza, just south of the parks directly across Southwest Fourth Avenue from City Hall. The plaza is owned by the federal government, which originally asked the police to arrest protesters trying to stay there.

Several Occupy Portland protesters have chained themselves to a barrel in the plaza, and federal officials are not taking steps to remove them.

Reporter Jennifer Anderson contributed to this news story.