After four months of 24-hour protesting at City Hall, Occupy Austin protesters were forced to leave City Hall Friday night.
The eviction is the result of a revised building use policy approved by city manager Marc A. Ott. According to the new policy, the City Hall plaza, mezzanine and amphitheater areas may not be used for non-city business or activities before 6 a.m. and after 10 p.m. and sleeping and camping will be prohibited at all times.
Deputy city manager Michael McDonald said the revised policy is necessary because of criminal activity, damage to city property and health concerns related to Occupy protesters staying on City Hall grounds around the clock.
“What we have put together really is a great compromise because protesters will still have access to City Hall to exercise their First Amendment rights all day,” McDonald said. “They just can’t live there anymore and keep their personal items there 24 hours a day.”
The city passed out the new policy memorandum to protesters at about 9 p.m., saying they had until 10 p.m. to gather their belongings and leave the premises, McDonald said.
“We have been in contact with the movement all week and letting them know they need to remove their personal belongings, but they have not complied,” McDonald said. “This is everyone’s City Hall, not just one group’s.”
Occupy protester Michelle Millette said many protesters panicked after they read the memo because the City Hall steps had been their home since Oct. 6.
“They didn’t give us any time to leave,” Millette said. “Could you take down your whole house and move out in an hour? I don’t know anyone in the history of the world that can move that fast. This is ridiculous.”
At 10 p.m. a line of police surrounding the perimeter of City Hall began pushing protesters back. Most of the protesters complied, but as the police line slowly forced them off City Hall grounds protesters yelled, “Shame,” and “This is what a police state looks like.”
McDonald said there were seven arrests.
Because most of the occupiers are homeless and may not have had a place to stay for the night, buses were arranged to transport protesters to a local Home Depot to be fed and sheltered for the night, McDonald said.
“We realize most of these people have nowhere to go so they have been offered a facility to get them through the night,” McDonald said. “They can get up [Saturday] and be transported back downtown where they can exercise their First Amendment rights and get settled in at the Arch or make other arrangements.”
Protester Joshua Dixon said many people were trying to contact friends and family because they were unsure about where they were going to stay.
“I don’t know where we’re going to go,” Dixon said. “We’re homeless. We don’t have anywhere.”
Urban studies sophomore Benjamin Orgel was among a group of onlookers as the police evicted the protesters. He said he was having dinner with his friends downtown when he saw a swarm of cops arrive at City Hall.
“We came outside to see what was going on,” Orgel said. “It’s crazy how quickly and efficiently the police have been able to disperse [the protesters]. It’s about time, though. The occupiers haven’t been doing much the last couple of months and they have no reason to be there all night anyway.”
Printed on Monday, February 6, 2012 as: Policy imposes hours on City Hall