While relations between the Austin Police Department and Occupy Austin protestors remained largely amicable since the occupation began last week, the relationship may be changing as result of recent arrests.
On Thursday morning, four protestors part of the Occupy Austin movement were arrested after refusing to clear City Hall Plaza while cleaning crews wiped away messages written in chalk on the ground. Those four were taken to jail on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespassing, reports Austin NBC affiliate KXAN.
A police official is quoted as saying law enforcement “greatly appreciate” those who are exercising their right to protest but that the city needed to come through and clean. There were no ulterior motives at play, Sgt. Scott Perry said. Some protestors weren’t so sure, though, issuing a statement that argued the arrests were an intimidation strategy.
“This was a deliberate attempt at removing Occupy Austin from Freedom Plaza,” said organizers in an online statement, according to CBS affiliate KVUE. “Law enforcement nation-wide is acting in a unified manner,” protesters said. “We will not be stopped. We are the 99 percent!”
Eric Wincott of Austin Cop Watch told KXAN, “By arresting them for being on city property, even if it is City Hall, it’s city property. They are violating their right to be there — in protest, under their First Amendment right, which should be protected, regardless if they are power washing the front steps.”
Eight protesters with the Occupy Houston movement were also arrested and charged with criminal trespassing on Wednesday. Angered by rising unemployment and job scarcity, roughly 150 demonstrators staged a sit-in at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston, the Houston Chronicle reports. The building was significant because it houses the offices of U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both of whom voted against reviewing the national jobs plan.
“Authorities ordered the protestors to leave the building and called in reinforcements, drawing at least 50 officers and members of the Houston Police Department’s mounted horse patrol,” the Chronicle reported. “Police tried to move the protesters behind a series of steel barricades they had set up on the perimeter of the federal building, at 1919 Smith.”
The Houston and Austin protests, held in solidarity with New York City-based Occupy Wall Street protests spawning the nation, plan to extend until Dec. 6. More than 700 arrests have been made in New York, where acts of police brutality have been reported and captured on video.
In Denver, Occupiers have been joined by a state legislator, who has since left to attend to business, lambasted by another legislator, and asked not to spend nights in the park by a contingent of elected officials.
Scot Kersgaard contributed to this article.