Occupy Austin demonstrators arrested after law confusion

Nick Hadjigeorge

[Updated at 9:29 p.m., memo released on Friday]

Thirty-eight Occupy Austin protesters were arrested Sunday morning for criminal trespassing on City Hall property after preventing the removal of a food table and refusing to vacate the plaza for pressure washing crews.

City hall officials released a memo on Friday announcing new regulations that apply to the activities of the Occupy Austin protest. The memo states that sleeping and camping are prohibited and includes new regulations for the use of signs and food distribution tables.

Occupy Austin protester Michelle Millette said there was uncertainty among the group about the enforcement of these new regulations. She said the Occupy Austin protesters treated the memo as a list of proposals and not the actual law.

“The general assembly wanted to let people know about what the memo said,” Millette said. “We requested 48 hours to discuss the proposals, but they never got back to us.”

At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo addressed the arrests and reflected on what they mean for the city of Austin and the Occupy Austin protests.

Acevedo said the new regulations and the regular power washings are required to make the environment safe and comfortable for the Occupy Austin movement and anyone who wants to participate in it. He said many of the new regulations came at the request of people who were concerned about the environment of the protests.

“There are a few folks that created an environment that is challenging for the occupiers, visitors and workers around city hall,” he said. “Some families with children showing up to show support Occupy Austin have been discouraged because of these conditions.”

Acevedo said the vast majority of the Occupy Austin members, including those who were arrested, have been extremely respectful and he is proud that 38 people were arrested Sunday morning without injuries to protesters or police officers.

“I’m very proud of the fact that folks that chose to challenge the rules did so in a responsible manner without resorting to violence,” Acevedo said. “We have shown that people can engage in civil disobedience and the police, the city and everyone can work together.”

Eighteen protesters were arrested for criminal trespassing after refusing to allow police to remove Occupy Austin’s food table after the new regulations stated the tables must be taken down from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

A second group of 20 protesters were arrested for refusing to vacate City Hall for the scheduled power wash cleaning. Bryson Gilreath was among the second group to get arrested and said he wanted to engage in civil disobedience after the protesters were arrested earlier for standing by the food table.

Zechariah Vasquez, one of the protesters arrested for guarding the food table, said he helped a woman who was pushed to the ground by a police officer. He said he was arrested after telling another police officer to arrest the one who pushed the woman.

“They said I was an organizer and an antagonizer, and I couldn’t be involved with the rest of the protesters,” Vasquez said.

Protester Kirk Goodman said the police were arresting people who refused to move and people who were compliant with moving.

“Some police were just picking random people from the crowd,” Goodman said.