A little past 11 last night, one of the protesters camped out behind Dallas City Hall was walking from tent to tent, shouting: "Anybody in there? Anybody in there?" From one emerged a groggy, irritated "What?" He was told: "You gotta go, you gotta go. Police are coming." And they were, from all sides -- on horses and on motorcycles and in paddy wagons, some in shirt sleeves but most decked out in full-on riot gear. But ... when? No one knew. "Soon," said one of the Occupy Dallas members sitting outside his tent, smoking. "Soon."
As it turned out, most of the tents were empty, having been abandoned a little earlier on this cold night. Farther inside the massive encampment, close to the Canton Street side behind City Hall, protesters began congregating. They were being told by Occupy Dallas media liaisons and attorney Jonathan Winocour to leave. The city had revoked the October agreement that would have allowed Occupy Dallas to remain on the property till mid-December. One Occupier told the others: "Clean up your shit, take everything. And collect the trash. This place is a mess!" One reason, among many, the city would cite in its eviction notice, a version of which you'll find below in a statement sent by City Hall spokesman Frank Librio a few hours after the occupation of City Hall officially ended.
A little past 11:45 p.m., Winocour gathered the remaining Occupiers, perhaps two dozen, and read to them the letter dispatched via email by First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers. The Occupiers repeated after him, part of their so-called "mic check" call-and-response routine.
"The city of Dallas hereby terminates, cancels and rescinds the settlement agreement between it and your clients," said the attorney, reading from his BlackBerry. "The city's termination is due to Occupy Dallas's numerous and material breaches of that agreement, some of which are ongoing since it was entered on October 17, 2011, and since the city gave Occupy Dallas written notice of some of its breaches in a letter dated November 8, 2011." Winocour told the protesters that the city considered them "an increasing health and safety hazard to themselves and others," and that the occupation was over -- immediately.
"Persons who fail to take prompt action will be subject to arrest and have their property seized," he told them. The letter also said: "The city regrets that it is not able to give you and the participants more notice of the timing of the termination of the agreement, but the need to reduce the risk of serious injury to participants of Occupy Dallas, Dallas Police officers and others prevented the city from providing more advanced notice. Lots of love, Chris Bowers."
Winocour added that last bit. But as if on cue, police cars and SUVs -- initially, just in front of City Hall -- began encircling the entire block. Just after midnight, it looked like a fully lighted movie set -- something out of, say, RoboCop, filmed on this very spot. It was surreal, the site of mounted officers lined up beneath OCP headquarters. And then, over the bullhorn, Dallas Police began warning: Get gone or get arrested. And media were warned: Leave the camp, because "your safety cannot be guaranteed." Then, a little later, we were told that if we did not walk out of the tent city, we too would be arrested.
Police gave Occupiers 20 minutes to pack their belongings and vacate the area. They said that if someone needed extra time, they could request it and return later to collect their things. As about 15 Occupiers began building a barricade out of overturned tables, decorated with American flags, Winocour advised them, "Do not resist arrest ... Gandhi up." People piled belongings into trucks, chattered about whether they would stay and go to jail, and chanted in protest. Occupy participant Malina Stroup remained calm. "We need cool heads if the cops are gonna come in," she told a girl who seemed to speak louder than she realized and repeated herself often.
Asked whether this was the end of Occupy, Stroup said, "Not at all. We built a community so that can't be torn down with some tents."
After issuing several warnings to vacate the area and moving all media across the street, police moved in. From where we were placed by police, reporters could not see the 18 arrests that took place within the camp, though the sheer volume of police vehicles created quite a spectacle.
Council member Angela Hunt, who had seen news of the raid on Twitter, came down to see what the hell was happening. She said she'd called City Manager Mary Suhm and asked her to explain. Suhm told her to check her email, that she's received the same letter was Winocour at the same time. Hunt was not pleased.
"Obviously, the plan had been made well before then," she said, adding that she did not know of a particular event that led to police to descend upon the camp. "[Suhm] certainly didn't talk to me about it ... and there was plenty of opportunity. Mary was with us all day" at a council briefing.
"I'm just suggesting that this could have been handled in a much more responsible fashion," Hunt said.
"This seems to me like a grossly disproportionate use of force," Winocour said to Hunt, as they eyed the rows of police SUVs.
"Ya think?" she said in response.
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A press conference will be held this morning at 10 at DPD HQ.
This is the statement sent by Occupy Dallas at a little past 4 this morning.
City Manager orders raid of OccupyDallas camp
Dallas, TX, November 17, 2011 -- Police officers in riot gear raided the OccupyDallas camp early Thursday morning after City Manager Mary Suhm rescinded the agreement with protesters and ordered evictions. Members of the camp who have been protesting for over 42 days were given no notice from the city before police strategically surrounded them.
In an excessive show of force, mounted officers on horseback trotted onto the scene while police sport utility vehicles lined the streets. Jonathan Winocour, the lawyer working with OccupyDallas, was sent a fax at 11:46 p.m. from the City Attorney's office informing him of the city's intention to forcibly remove the peaceful protesters. Minutes after Winocour relayed the message to protesters, the members of the media were warned to leave by police loudspeaker. They were relocated across the street while the police loudspeaker issued a statement to the remaining OccupyDallas members. The protesters were given 20 minutes to collect their personal property and vacate the park.
After the 20 minute deadline had expired, police officers carrying shields lined the sidewalk and began moving into the camp. They searched each tent before arresting those who had chosen to stay. In total, 17 protesters were arrested for refusing to leave the park.
The raid on the camp comes less than 24 hours after Winocour met with city officials who assured him that there were no plans to evict the protesters. Protesters were warned by members of the media that police officers were being briefed and prepared for the raid on the camp. OccupyDallas advisor Glynn Wilcox was shocked to discover that City Manager Suhm failed to notify Mayor Rawlings and the members of the City Council of the police action. The raid comes on a day which has been planned as a National Day of Action across the country.
Additional reporting by Robert Wilonsky.