About 100 protesters with Occupy OKC remained Monday night in Kerr Park in downtown Oklahoma City, even though their permit to camp overnight was not renewed.
About 11 p.m., the protesters marched and chanted, “Whose park? Our park. Whose streets? Our streets.”
All the while, two police cruisers waited watchfully nearby on Couch Drive. The officers made no move toward the protest.
The officers said they have been there every night since the protest began about two months ago trying to keep the protesters and everyone else involved safe.
The officers know the camping permit expired at 11 p.m., but they said they had no orders or plans to move in overnight.
Mark Faulk, 55, of Oklahoma City, is one of the organizers.
He said the group has a meeting with police about 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Faulk said an organizer from the Occupy L.A. group was in from Los Angeles to coach the protesters about how to react if the police came to arrest them and how to continue to peacefully protest.
Permit wasn't renewed by city
Earlier in the day, Oklahoma City officials said they were no longer going to allow Occupy OKC protesters to camp overnight in Kerr Park, which caused an uproar among occupiers. Some of them vowed to be arrested rather than be evicted.
The group has been allowed to stay in the park overnight for the past two months, and Oklahoma City so far has avoided violence and confrontations between police and protesters that have occurred in some other cities, including Tulsa.
Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said the group had been getting a permit that costs $55 a day.
“The permit will not be renewed this time,” Nelson said Monday. “The park will revert to its regular hours, closing time being 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. They will be permitted to come there during the day, but they won't be permitted to camp out all night.”
City officials said they met Monday afternoon with the group's organizers to discuss the city's decision not to renew the permit.
Occupy organizer Beth Isabell, 49, of Oklahoma City, said she went to pay the permit Monday but was denied. She said the group received donations over the Thanksgiving holiday, and they were going to pay through the rest of the week.
The police department issued a letter, explaining that occupiers would be evicted from the park between 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., Isabell said.
“They rejected our payment and gave us this letter,” she said, adding that some participants won't leave after the curfew.
Isabell said some protesters will accept citations, and others will be arrested before they leave. It's something that the group hopes to avoid, she said.
Occupier Jaymie Johnson said he was laid off as a firefighter and has been protesting at the park for equal employment opportunities for all Americans.
“I'm definitely ready to be arrested,” he said. “We're occupying this park, and I'm not going to leave until there's a change.”
Construction to begin
Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry, a former police chief, said city officials had come to an agreement with the Occupy protesters allowing them to camp overnight at Kerr Park, which is not allowed by city ordinances, as long as the protesters complied with the terms for paid permits to use the park during the day.
Berry said that changed, in part because of issues presented by construction on the SandRidge campus and also because of an incident early Sunday.
According to a police report, officers were called to the park about 1:45 a.m.
A transient who had been staying at the camp overnight said he was working security for the camp when other transients staying at the camp ransacked the encampment and threw chairs and trash cans at him after getting drunk.
One protester said the transients at the camp were not part of the movement, and the whole group shouldn't be punished for their actions.
Pictures taken by police show chairs, tables and trash cans overturned with food and other garbage strewed about.
No one was arrested, but a pregnant woman at the camp was taken to a hospital after complaining of stomach pains.
SandRidge initially had been granted permission to close all of Kerr Park starting Monday as part of a demolition phase of their construction project, but city officials worked with them to allow half the park to remain open. But even the open portion of the park would be dirty and noisy, rendering it unsuitable for the protesters' use, Berry said.
Because of that and evidence that only known homeless people have been camping in the park of late, officials decided not to renew the permit, Berry said.
“I don't know if the transients are part of the group or not. It's kind of hard to tell,” Berry said.
“There's nobody really camping out. My people tell me that, at most, there are two to three people (camping out) overnight ... and they've been able to identify most of those persons as simply just homeless people. There's no longer any on-site responsible party for the park after hours.”
The group avoided eviction earlier this month when the city threatened to pull the permit because the camp had lost its portable toilets because of an unpaid bill. Organizers solved the problem and had new portable toilets installed.
Del City protest
Occupy OKC protesters also have come under fire lately when some of their participants were arrested on complaints of disorderly conduct Friday after they protested inside a Del City Walmart.
Group members say they were at the store doing “mic checks” to show support for employees who had to work Friday.
The group said several of its members were tackled by officers during the arrests.
Faulk said he was filming the protest when officers told him to stop. He said he stopped recording and was walking toward the exit when he was tackled from behind and arrested by Del City police.
He said at the time that Del City officers could have treated protesters like Oklahoma City police had. But with the refusal to renew the park permit, Faulk said he's angry with both departments.
“We cooperated with them,” he said.
“They lied to us.”
No other park
The Occupy protesters will not be granted permission to camp in another city park, Berry said.
“If they choose to be there (Kerr Park) for the meetings, the assemblies, things like that during the day, then that would be up to them,” Berry said.
“But of course if the conditions worsen as a result of the demolition, we may have to close the whole park. We just don't know yet. In terms of camping, unless they find some private property where someone will allow them to do that, we will not give them a permit to camp in any other park.”
Berry said the city plans to be patient with the protesters and give them time to leave the park, and officials were not planning to kick the protesters out right at 11 p.m. Monday when their last permit expired. “We want to accommodate their right to free speech, but that does not extend into camping overnight or setting up tents in city parks,” Berry said.