Occupy Austin

Members of Occupy Austin were forced to leave City Hall Friday night at 10 p.m.

The eviction is the result of a revised building use policy approved Friday 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.”

Puneet Kumar smokes a cigarette surrounded by sleeping members of the Occupy Austin movement Tuesday evening at Austin City Hall. Over the past four months, members of the Austin Police force have accumulated 11,699 overtime hours in order to curb drug use and crime at the protest sites.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

As temperatures decrease, so do the number of Occupy Austin protestors willing to demonstrate outside City Hall, said Caitlin Pigford, 16 year-old protester on the verge of homelessness.

In its fourth month at City Hall, the Occupy Austin movement is losing stamina, and members blame the weather, Pigford said. Protest signs now serve as cushions and blockades against the wind on City Hall steps instead of being held high, she said.

“Right now everyone is just sitting around when before we would have been holding signs by the street, playing drums and talking to people,” Pigford said. “The spirit has definitely gone down since we first got here.”

Nearly all of the Occupy Austin protesters at City Hall are homeless, and the demonstration gives them a warm place to huddle up, said unemployed and homeless protester Dallas Aycock.

“A lot of people say the homeless are just taking advantage of the movement because food and blankets are offered, but I wasn’t homeless when I first got into Occupy,” Aycock said. “As I became homeless I just supported the movement even more because I felt firsthand how bad the economy is.”

Drug use has also infiltrated City Hall steps and people approach the group daily looking for drugs, protester Joshua Dixon said. He said he tells people asking if “anyone knows where they can get some bud,” to leave the steps immediately because they are making the entire group look bad.

“It pisses us off when people come over drunk and asking about drugs because then we all get labeled as drunks and druggies when we’re actually here to prove a point,” Dixon said.

The Austin Police Department has worked 11,699 overtime hours since the protest began, costing an extra $502,607 in an attempt to prevent drug use and other crimes at protest sites, according to APD documents.

Occupy Austin protestor and 2003 UT alumna Virginia Lu said the movement is dying at City Hall because it is time to expand to other communities. Lu said she will soon start going door to door in neighborhoods outside of central Austin to educate community members about the movement.

“Everyone who is around this area and interested in Occupy has already come by,” Lu said. “Now it is time to let all those people in other areas who have never heard of us know who we are.”

Printed on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 as: Occupy Austin loses Momentum

Members of the Occupy Austin movement have not been deterred by recent arrests, as they have made accommodations to continue their protest, despite local law enforcement policies.

The 38 organization members arrested during Halloween weekend were later released, but not without restrictions. Arrest warrants issued included public intoxication, as well as trespassing. Some who were arrested for criminal trespassing are no longer allowed to convene on ground at City Hall. The group held a general assembly meeting on the evening of Halloween to discuss issues with law enforcement policies, safety while protesting and improving Occupy Austin living conditions. Occupy Austin supporters have moved their general assembly meetings to the grassy median between City Hall and Town Lake in order to allow those not permitted on City Hall grounds to attend meetings.

Occupy Austin supporter Samantha “Mama” Trevino said she witnessed several arrests and was concerned with the way police treated those taken into custody. Trevino said she witnessed an arrest that left detainees with bruises.

“I think they’re trying to get rid of us,” Trevino said. “It hurts, but I’m here for a purpose.”

Occupy Austin supporter Colby Wendeborn was one of the 38 arrested over the weekend, and said he feels he is participating in the protests for a significant purpose.

Wendeborn said he and many others arrested appear in several videos the group has uploaded to YouTube in hopes of raising awareness to the issue of law enforcement policies he believes are wrong.

“The arrests needed to happen to bring everyone together,” Wendeborn said. “When I got out of jail, I thought Austin would be in uproar, but nothing has happened. These are the things people need to see.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 1, 2011, as: Occupy Austin demonstrators regroup following arrests

Hayley Evans is reunited with her friends after being arrested during Occupy Austin. According to the group’s Facebook page, 38 protesters were arrested over the weekend.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

[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. 

Austin Police Department chief Art Acevedo speaks with a TV news reporter on October 6, the first day of Occupy Austin.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

Occupy Austin protester and co-founder of the group Copwatch is helping Austinites learn about their rights despite being arrested for exercising civil disobedience.

Eric Ellison and three other Occupy Austin protesters were arrested Oct. 13 for criminal trespassing after refusing to leave City Hall grounds while the area was being cleaned overnight. Ellison said getting arrested for engaging in civil disobedience shows his support for the Occupy Austin movement, and he thinks the police often overstep their boundaries.

Ellison and his friend Eric Wincott co-founded Austin Copwatch with the central goal of reducing police violence, mainly through videotaping police activity and teaching people to explore the alternatives to calling the police. The Austin chapter of Copwatch is part of a nationwide network of people who film the actions of police officers and publish the videos to websites such as YouTube.

He said the activities of Copwatch are directly related to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement because of the major police presence at protests nationwide. Ellison said the police can potentially abuse their ability to use force, such as using Tazers or physical violence, against citizens, especially when they are engaging in civil disobedience and protest.

“They are an armed administrative bureaucracy based on a top down chain of command and gives orders that are to be followed without question,” Ellison said.

Ellison said the main tactic of Austin Copwatch is to record the police and put pressure on them to restrict their use of force against people. He said Austin Copwatch distributed cameras, notepads and flashlights during the Occupy Austin protests and held training sessions on how to be witnesses for people who are getting arrested.

“We are deterring police violence with our presence,” Ellison said. “Having cameras around the police deters them from being violent.”

Ellison said the Austin Police Department hasn’t engaged too much with the Occupy Austin protesters because they are following most of the city’s regulations. On Oct. 6, the first day of the Occupy Austin protests, 1,200 attended and no arrests were made.

UT Police Department chief of police Robert Dahlstrom said UTPD has no policy against people filming on-duty officers but emphasized using common sense to avoid interfering with the officer’s job. Dahlstrom said he has had experience with Austin Copwatch and other media groups filming the police. He said reporters have been arrested in the past for interfering with an officer’s investigation because they were warned several times to keep their distance but refused to move.

“There is a difference between taking pictures and interfering, and you can get arrested for that since it is state law,” Dahlstrom said. “Don’t try to get right in [the officer’s] face, stay 20 or 30 feet back to make sure you’re not going to interfere.”

Wincott said the groups tactics have proven to reduce police violence in other cases because of more public awareness.

“A lot of change came about when people saw police abuse and the killing of unarmed innocent people,” Wincott said. “Even police agree with these ideas because when people see brutality, it makes all police look bad.”

The group also sees a need to change the way people interact with police within their neighborhoods. Wincott said police often make small events escalate into larger problems by getting involved in people’s arguments or disputes.

“We are working on organizing communities and teaching them to solve domestic disputes without the police,” Wincott said. “When you send aggressive people into an aggressive situation, bad things are going to happen, so we trying to change this system and educate people to protect themselves.”

Being a sophomore who lives on campus, I am an avid reader of The Daily Texan, but lately I feel that the Texan is coming up short on its duty to report the most important and relevant news of current times. The Occupy Austin movement, along with all of the other Occupy movements around the country and even around the world, is history in the making, and I find it to be much more important than what shops are opening on the Drag or how a student director (even though I am a film student) finds inspiration.

I find it hard to believe that it deserves any less coverage than at least one front-page article a day. That being said, I also find the overall exposure of the movement to be minimal on campus, and I believe it is your job as the Longhorn student body’s news source to report on something so momentous.

— Mauldin is a Radio-television-film sophomore