An Occupy Dallas march and protest turned ugly this afternoon when police used pepper spray to subdue the crowd outside of the Bank of America building on Main and Lamar, protesters told Unfair Park. Eight people were arrested from the crowd of about 150. After the arrests, protesters continued marching through the West End, where we witnessed a standoff between them and police, dozens of whom were following the march on foot, bicycles and motorcycle.
Protesters said the arrests began when one of their members, Stephen Benavides, 30, was shoved off a four-foot-high wall outside Bank of America. He landed on his back, the protesters said, and was then hauled onto his feet by police and arrested.
"People got upset about police officers shoving people," Whytney Blythe, 22, said. She's a main organizer in the group and the person who tweets at @OccupyDallas. "The cops told them to back up, but there was nowhere for them to go. They were already on the sidewalk." Police began arresting others in the crowd, and several police, she said, opened up their batons but didn't use them.
"I saw three people getting arrested," another Occupy Dallas member, Andrew, told us. "And each were handled overly aggressively."
Protesters said an off-duty officer working as security guard at the bank shoved Benavides off the wall. (Update: Protesters are now saying it was an on-duty Dallas police officer.) We asked police for comment but got a terse response from Dallas Police spokesman Senior Corporal Kevin Janse instead, sent while the protest was still taking place: "All the commotion downtown is Occupy Dallas related. We do not discuss the Occupy Dallas situation."
Dallas City Hall spokesman Frank Librio sent the city's side of the story moments ago. It reads, in full:
At approx 1 p.m. OD protesters marched to Bank of America at 901 Main. Several climbed up on the planters and were directed to get down. During the exchange one of the protesters became aggressive and assaulted officers. This individual will be charged with assault on a public servant and resisting.
Seven other individuals were also arrested for various charges including "Use of Sidewalk" (used to be pedestrian in the roadway)
Other charges are pending as video is reviewed to determine correct charges.
Three officers received minor injuries.
Several protesters said that another protester, Kooper Caraway, was shoved off the sidewalk into the street by police, who then arrested him for stepping off the curb. Meg Hargis, another occupier, said she watched the police use pepper spray on the protesters.
"I inhaled mace while they were spraying it," she said.
The remaining protesters looped through the West End after the arrests, many chanting "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out" and other slogans. They paused in front of the JFK Memorial, where one man, Noe Padierna, announced that the group would be splitting up, with some people headed to Lew Sterrett to await the release of the arrested people, some to protest in front of the Chase Bank on Main and Akard, and some back to the camp
"We have evidence of DPD officers pushing our brother Stephen Benavides off an at least four-foot-high ledge," he told the crowd. "The events of today were not at the hands of Occupy Dallas."
Protesters lined themselves up on a sidewalk by the memorial, while police stood in the street, forbidding them from entering the crosswalk. A man in a Guy Fawkes mask pointed at several of the cops in turn. "You're fired, you're fired, you're fired," he told them. Another man shouted, "You denied us our civil rights."
"I feel sorry for you," a third protester told police. "I really do."
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A press photographer, who witnessed the arrests but asked not to be identified, told us: "I don't want to be telling stories. But I think the police started it."
UPDATE 6:10 p.m.: Occupy Dallas' Facebook has posted video of the arrest. Below.