Unlike their counterparts in some other cities, Oklahoma City officials have found a way to work cooperatively with Occupy protesters, even going so far as to bend a city ordinance.
For more than a month, Kerr Park has been occupied by members of a protest movement concerned with economic inequality.
It is against city ordinances to stay overnight in the park and use tents, but the city and local Occupy leadership reached an agreement to let the protesters stay there around the clock as long as they pay permit fees, keep the park clean and follow other rules, Assistant Oklahoma City Manager M.T. Berry said Wednesday.
About a dozen protesters have been living in tents at Kerr Park at Robert S. Kerr and N Broadway avenues. Justin Myer, 37, said he's been with Occupy OKC for five days and has seen more people join them in the evenings.
“It's not about right and left; it's right and wrong,” Myer said.
Violence in other cities
Police in Tulsa, Portland, Ore.; New York City, Oakland, Calif.; Columbia, S.C.; San Diego, and elsewhere have gone into Occupy encampments and forcibly removed protesters. Officials in various cities have participated in conference calls to discuss concerns over unsanitary and even dangerous conditions involved with the protests.
Berry said he participated in a conference call Nov. 2 with leaders from cities that are members of the Large Cities Executive Forum to discuss strategies on how to handle the Occupy movement.
“Every city was having somewhat of a different response. It really depended on the size of the Occupy movement and the location of whatever park or area that they decided to occupy,” Berry said. “It went anywhere from what was going on in Oakland to what was going on here, which was drastically different.”
Oklahoma City police Master Sgt. Gary Knight said officers have no plans to move protesters out of the park.
An 18-year-old man was found dead in the park on Oct. 31. His cause of death remains under investigation, but no foul play is suspected. A friend of his was arrested on drug possession charges.
“It's important to note that the Occupy OKC movement has been a peaceful one,” Knight said.
“We have maintained an open avenue of communication with the group, and they have done a good job ensuring that their demonstration has remained peaceful. And to their credit, they have kept the park clean.”
Sam Fadei, owner of the Harvey Street Grill, 212 N Harvey, said the Occupy protest is wearing his patience thin.
“It has been inconvenient,” Fadei said. “They are walking around the building, and sometimes they have masks on, ask for drinks. It puts off other customers.”
Oklahoma City Councilwoman Meg Salyer's Ward 2 includes Kerr Park. She said the feedback she received about that protest represents how she thinks city residents feel about the movement.
“The calls were almost 50-50 evenly split,” Salyer said.
She said the aspects of the Occupy protests that concern her relate to sanitation issues related to cooking and using the restroom.
Resident Scott Wallace wrote a letter to Salyer, saying that protesters were drinking liquor and beer and openly smoking marijuana at the park.
“There were dirty, fly-covered dishes strewn about and overflowing trash cans. I found 2-liter soda bottles half-filled with urine sitting outside of tents,” he wrote.
Protesters said they are using bottled water for hygienic purposes and to clean dishes with. There also are portable toilets at the park.
Salyer said city leaders and protest members have been working closely to keep the movement within the law.
“I really think it's been handled very well on everyone's behalf,” she said.