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100 Occupy Boston protesters arrested; mayor says he sympathizes with protesters, but they can’t tie up the city |
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino today defended the arrests of 100 Occupy Boston protesters in the city’s downtown, saying he agrees with them on the issues but they couldn’t be allowed to “tie up the city.”
“I understand they have freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but we have a city to manage,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m open to suggestions, but civil disobedience will not be tolerated.”
The arrests early this morning on the city’s Greenway park of the protesters, who have gathered in the downtown in recent days to criticize the financial industry and social inequality, began at about 1:20 a.m. At least nine of the protesters are expected to appear in a Boston courthouse today, officials said.
“The message they are saying ... is the middle class of America is having a difficult time. That’s the issue they are trying to get across,” Menino said.
“I agree with them on the issues. Foreclosure. Corporate greed. These are issues I’ve been working on my entire career. But you can’t tie up a city,” he said.
He said protesters had crossed two lines, first, by marching on the North Washington Street Bridge and threatening to tie up traffic and, second,by expanding their campground to newly renovated areas of the Greenway that the city had asked them to stay off.
Occupy Boston said today in a statement that police had “brutally attacked” protesters.
“Today’s reprehensible attack by the Boston Police Department represents a sad and disturbing shift away from dialogue and towards violent repression,” the group said on its website.
The arrests began around 1:20 a.m. when police in riot gear lined up on Atlantic Avenue. Minutes later, dozens of sheriff vans and police wagons arrived and more than 200 officers in uniforms and riot gear surrounded the section of the Greenway occupied by the protesters.
Police Superintendent William Evans and Commissioner Edward F. Davis watched from across the street. Evans gave the crowd two minutes to disperse, warning that they would be locked up if they did not comply.
The crowd , energized by the sudden appearance of the Boston and transit police officers, chanted, ‘‘The people united will never be defeated,’’ “This is a peaceful protest,” and “The whole world is watching.’’
About 10 minutes later, the first officers entered the park and surrounded the group. Evans, using a loudspeaker, gave one more warning and then each protester was individually put on his or her stomach, cable-tied, and dragged off as other officers tore down tents and arrested and detained people on the fringe of the park.
One police officer was hit in the face.
According to police, no protesters or police were seriously injured.
A number of the protesters retreated from the Greenway to Dewey Square when the police arrived.
Police had earlier warned the approximately 1,000 protesters to leave the Greenway area, where they had settled hours before, and relocate to either Dewey Square or a small, adjacent strip of the Greenway.
Officials did not want the protesters, who originally settled in Dewey Square, to occupy the space across Congress Street on the Greenway because it recently underwent a renovation project where expensive improvements were added, according to Elaine Driscoll, police spokeswoman.
Prior to moving in on the protesters, police had closed all the streets in the area.
The protesters’ chants stopped as their companions were being led off by police. Some protesters would then yell out the phone number of a lawyer group that would defend them if they were charged.
As the officers lined up, some members of the crowd shouted, “You don’t have to do this!” and “Who do you protect, who do you serve?”
At one point, eight to 10 officers in riot gear tackled and cable-tied one protester who appeared to be resisting. When the chanting stopped, an eerie silence came over the park except for the occasional heckling from remaining members of the crowd gathered across the street.
Some in the crowd also chanted, “Down with Menino!”
John Nilles, 74, a former Marine from Medford who served in Vietnam and is a member of the group, Veterans for Peace, said he was knocked down during the arrests.
He believes he did not get arrested in the chaos because he got knocked down, and banged up his knee.
“I have absolutely no use for police anymore,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
He talked about how it reminded him of the 1960s. “This is not the world I intended to come back to,” he said in reference to Vietnam.
Tensions began rising late Monday when, at about 11:15, police issued written instructions and expectations of the growing group of protesters if officers demanded that they disperse.
The notice informed the group of laws against trespassing on a new patch of the Greenway -- bordered by Congress Street, Atlantic Avenue, Pearl Street, and Purchase Street -- where tents had sprung up since about 4 p.m, and was also private property.
In a section titled, “What Occupy Boston Participants can expect from the BPD,” the statement said officers will “arrest those knowingly in violation of the law if necessary,” and that they will “conduct themselves in a professional, respectful and proportional manner.”
Police said they would use video to identify participants deemed to be breaking trespassing and unlawful assembly laws, which could apply to the demonstrators, who planned to encircle the camp, lock arms, and resist ejection.
Police said that if five armed people, or 10 unarmed people, were found to be unlawfully assembled, “police can demand that they immediately and peaceably disperse.”
The notice also included the potential legal consequences for unlawful assembly (up to one year in prison and up to a $500 fine) and trespassing (30 days in jail and $100 fine).
At both the Greenway and at Dewey Square, “medical tents” were set up with large red crosses taped on them and volunteers claiming to be EMTs, paramedics, and others trained in first aid stood by with red crosses taped to their backs and shoulders.