AUSTIN — Austin police and Occupy Austin protesters clashed Saturday night at City Hall, and it ended with dozens of arrests.
APD confirmed the arrest of 38 Occupy Austin demonstrators. Officers said they were enforcing an existing city ordinance.
The demonstrators were charged with criminal trespass. No tear gas, pepper spray or batons were used. Police were prepared for the possibility of multiple arrests. Those arrested were escorted onto the bus without incident.
The ordinance bans anyone from sleeping on the mezzanine between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Protesters claim it is unfair.
"This is private property, owned by the City of Austin as public space," said Occupy protester Brian Overman. "For them to come out with a memo saying we don't feel that this particular area is appropriate for freedom of speech — there's no precedent for that."
According to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, the arrests came about 36 hours after he met with people from Occupy Austin to inform them about city rules, including the ban on sleeping on the mezzanine and the ban on food tables.
"We're still a nation and city of rules and laws — our job is to enforce it," Chief Acevedo said. "I'm proud we made 38 arrests last night without incident."
Police said protesters refused to leave after being warned.
"We did reach out. We made every effort," said Occupy Austin spokesman Carl Lindemann. "I believe Occupy Austin, the rank-and-file, want what we all want — to express ourselves, not be a burden, be good neighbors. That means you don't arrest your neighbors. It doesn't happen that way."
While marching downtown, Occupy Austin organizers said police confiscated personal items left behind at the site, including sleeping bags and a bookshelf. When demonstrators returned, they said a clash broke out between them and the officers.
The first confrontation occurred around 12:30 a.m. Sunday while officers enforced a rule banning food tables in the City Hall plaza after 10 p.m. Some protesters surrounded the table with arms linked.
The Austin American-Statesman reported another confrontation when more than 50 police officers tried to clear an amphitheater on the plaza for a regular power-washing, leading to more arrests. Most protesters, however, remained peaceful and moved to permit the cleaning before returning to their spots.
While the mezzanine is now off-limits at night, protesters can still sleep on the concrete risers in the amphitheater area.
The arrests overnight are drawing a reaction from the Texas Civil Rights Project. The organization's director, Jim Harrington, released this statement:
"If the police couldn't handle the situation, then it would have been appropriate to bring in a mediator. It's an absurd waste of tax money to spend police time and energy to break up a pure First Amendment demonstration."
The Occupy Austin movement began October 6 to oppose corporate greed, which they believe is the source for the country's economic problems.
Nineteen of the 38 people arrested bonded out. They're also banned from returning to City Hall for at least two years.