UPDATE • Occupy Portland statement says group could 'operate in a variety of formats'
Mayor Sam Adams says the city will close the parks where Occupy Portland protesters are camping at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
Speaking at a City Hall press conference, Adams said the city has been respecting the free-speech rights of the protesters but that growing criminal activity and safety issues have 'tipped the balance' to the point where city must take action.
Members of the Occupy movement said in a statement released Thursday afternoon that they still haven't decided what action to take in the face of possible eviction. That decision, like all by the group, had to be approved by a majority of its members, according to the statement. That doesn't mean the group plans to stay in the parks.
'The physical occupation of public lands has been a cornerstone of Occupy Portland's free assembly and has served logistical necessity,' according to the statement. 'The occupation will continue to exist and operate in a variety of formats. Planning for advancements of Occupy Portland have long been under way, but specific announcements will only come when appropriate.'
Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese said they hoped the Occupy protesters would leave the camps peacefully, but they were prepared for confrontations.
'I have said from the beginning that I believe the Occupy movement would have to evolve in order to realize its full potential,' Adams told reporters jammed into a third-floor conference room. 'It is my sincere hope that the movement, with its focus on widespread economic inequity, will flourish in its next phase - a phase where we can focus all of our energies on economic and social justice, not on Porta-Potties and tents.'
Reese praised Occupy Portland organizers who had worked with police officers in the two parks, and said the police bureau has had a challenging time dealing with a 'leaderless movement.'
'Portland has been at the forefront of a peaceful movement,' Reese said. 'I'm hoping that we can continue that.'
Between 200 and 400 protesters have made a home for the past five weeks in Chapman and Lownsdale squares on Southwest Fourth Avenue, just a block from City Hall. The wall-to-wall tent city was jammed with people Thursday morning, many who were unhappy with the mayor's decision to clear the parks.
'We're not leaving,' said one young woman (who didn't give her name) standing outside a blue tarp-covered tent near the edge of Chapman Square.
'This isn't all of the movement,' said another woman (who also did not give her name) while sitting on a park bench talking with two other people in Lownsdale Square. 'This is just the first wave.'
Will she and others return to the squares if they are forced to leave Sunday? 'Yes, we'll be back,' the woman said.
In the center of Chapman Square, a crowd of about a dozen young men and women were shouting about the city's plan and exhorting fellow campers to march on City Hall. Right after the press conference, only a couple of people stood in the paved plaza outside City Hall, shouting at the media gathered for the press conference.
Within an hour, however, dozens of Occupy protesters gathered outside City Hall to voice their unhappiness with the mayor's decision.
Not a threat to safety
Adams told reporters that while he still supported many of the Occupy Portland ideals, several incidents in the past week had forced police to confront a growing crime issue in the camps, something he said the city could not tolerate.
The incidents included two drug overdoses in the past two days, the arrest of a man suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail at a stairwell in the World Trade Center and numerous arrests for drug use and possession.
'I cannot wait for someone to die in the camp before I take action,' Adams told reporters. 'Events have conspired to make this action necessary.'
Members of the Occupy group disputed some of the city's claims on the crime and said in Thursday's statement that they had taken significant steps to curb the problems.
'The city's evidence of increased crime around the Occupy site has only verified what is already clear-interpersonal conflicts, substance abuse and disorderly conduct arrests have increased,' according to the group's statement. 'What the city of Portland has failed to prove, however, is that the protesters of Occupy Portland are direct threats to public safety and economic activity. The Occupy Portland general assembly ... (has) demonstrated (that) the occupiers overwhelmingly disapprove of their peaceful and non-violent First Amendment expressions being used as a cover for unlawful actions.'
Reese said police would meet with Occupy Portland campers for the next three days to spread the message that the two parks would be closed on Sunday. The police would be 'very deliberate, very methodical' in their actions after the camps are closed, he said.
'In my 22 years in law enforcement, I have not seen anything quite like this,' Reese told reporters.
Bill for police car damage
On another issue, the city of Gresham is sending a $1,546.52 bill to the Occupy Portland organizers for damage done to one of its police cars last week.
Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis and Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger hand delivered the invoice to the Occupy Portland information booth at around 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
'It seems patently unfair that Gresham residents, the vast majority of whom are 99-percenters, should have to pay to repair the damage caused by a member of your movement,' Bemis wrote in a cover letter attached to the invoice.
Portland Police officers arrested a suspect in the vandalism that happened Tuesday.
'I have been sympathetic to many of the important issues the 'Occupy' movement has raised regarding wealth concentration and corporate abuses threatening the middle class,' Bemis wrote. 'While I firmly believe in the Constitutional freedom of expression, it seems to me that the remnants of the movement still present in downtown Portland are doing more harm than good at this point.'
The invoice and cover letter also included repair estimates from a Gresham-area body shop.
Reporters Kevin Harden and Jim Redden contributed to this news story.