Note: Full news conference with Mayor Sam Adams has been moved into the story below. KATU News coverage to the left.
PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who says he supports the ideas and free speech espoused by those involved with the Occupy Portland movement and the protesters camped out in downtown Portland, said recent events have forced him to set a deadline to clear the camping protesters this weekend.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Mayor Adams and Portland Police Chief Mike Reese set a deadline for a minute past midnight Saturday night for the campers to clear Lownsdale and Chapman parks in downtown Portland.
Following the 10 a.m. news conference, a small but growing group of protesters gathered at City Hall, which is located near the Occupy Portland campgrounds, forcing the normally accessible facility into lockdown. Only workers with key cards were being allowed into the building.
The group grew larger at noon as a General Assembly for the protesters convened. KATU News reporter Emily Sinovic said some protesters burned a copy of Mayor Sam Adams' statement setting a deadline to clear the camps. Portland police were on hand at City Hall as protesters moved about. No arrests were immediately observed or announced.
An unidentified woman with a megaphone addressed the growing crowd at City Hall, saying "we need to actively create solutions. This is no time to turn on one another right now."
KATU.com producer Shannon Cheesman, who took photos at the protest site, said protest leaders are working to come up with a plan before the deadline arrives Saturday and that options will be discussed Thursday night at the next General Assembly.
Following the woman's remarks, a male protester said "we will unite, one world occupation everywhere." The crowd on hand responded with cheers. Another young man exhorted the crowd to "defend your camp, defend your home."
Cheesman said the general tone of the protesters at City Hall following Adam's announcement of the deadline was to stay in the park despite the deadline and possible police action. Many chanted "our park! our park!" at the meeting.
She also reports that one idea moving through the group was to spread the protest to parks around the city, not just downtown.
At the news conference, Adams said his approach from the start of the Occupy Portland movement, which took root 36 days ago, was to allow protesters to have their say while "keeping the city moving and keeping the city safe." Adams and other city leaders marched for a short while with thousands of protesters during the October 6 start of the protest.
Adams invoked specific city ordinances allowing the parks to be cleared. Following his statement, he and Chief Reese took questions from reporters. "We're hoping for a very peaceful resolution to this," Reese said at the news conference.
City officials and police had taken a mostly hands-off approach to the protest camps with the exception of clearing Southwest Main Street, which protesters had blocked. Several people were arrested and released following that incident.
Adams said while he supports the reasons those involved with Occupy Portland are protesting, recent events including two drug overdoses, a incident involving a Molotov cocktail, crime, sanitation and other issues have reached a "tipping point" and that it is time to clear the parks.
"The camp is especially vulnerable to drugs and violence," he said. "The good will of Occupy Portland has been misused by others."
He also said the city and police will be prepared for any "reasonable eventuality" including arrests if protesters refuse to clear the park grounds. He also said he expects the transition from protest camp back to city parks to be "methodical and peaceful."
Portland Police Chief Mike Reese, who is rumored to be a possible candidate for Portland mayor since Adams announced he will not seek a second term, was with the mayor at the news conference.
Occupy Portland protesters say they are camped out to highlight the growing chasm between the rich and poor in the United States and the influence of the wealthy on government.
Adams said most of the Occupy Portland protesters and their leaders have been communicative and cooperative with police and city officials but he will not wait until someone is killed by drugs or violence at the protest site to clear the parks.
Recent incidents at the Occupy Portland camps include attacks on media crews in the park, a rising crime rate, litter, drug use and issues with sewage and other sanitary conditions.
Adams reiterated that he believes the protest is about more than "tents and toilets" and that he wants to close the parks in a peaceful manner.
Some protesters have said they will remain in the park despite any deadline to move, setting up a possible confrontation with police as the clock strikes midnight Saturday.
Occupy protesters in other cities, most notably in Berkley, California, have clashed with police who have tried to clear makeshift campgrounds.
The Occupy protests began September 17 in New York city when protesters marched on the financial district at the start of the Occupy Wall Street protest. Many protesters remain camped out on Wall Street and at other locations in the United States and around the world.
Watch today's news conference below:
Statement from Mayor Sam Adams
Since Occupy Portland began five weeks ago, I have been very clear in my objective: We must balance people’s rights to free speech, with keeping the city safe and moving. From the beginning, behavior has mattered.
We have maintained our balance through day-to-day decisions regarding Occupy Portland. While the Constitution requires city governments to facilitate speech by citizens, city governments also have the authority and responsibility to regulate associated behaviors on behalf of the general public.
In the past few days, the balance has tipped: We have experienced two very serious drug overdoses, where individuals required immediate resuscitation in the camp. As has been widely reported, police have arrested a suspect in Tuesday night’s disturbing Molotov cocktail incident. Crime, especially reported assaults, has increased in the area in and around the camps. This is in addition to the health and sanitation issues that the camp’s close quarters have brought about.
Occupy has had considerable time to share its movement’s messages with the public, but has lost control of the camps it created. The cost to the larger community is rapidly increasing.
Now, the City of Portland finds itself at a turning point.
The City will soon temporarily close Lownsdale and Chapman Squares to the public, to put an end to safety, health and crime problems, and to repair the park land. When the City re-opens the parks, the City will enforce all park and criminal laws in the Squares and the sidewalks, and the park land will be available for large, organized speech events by permit.
At 12:01 am on Sunday, November 13, all persons and property in Lownsdale and Chapman Squares will again be subject to enforcement of all laws including the laws against being in a park after midnight (PCC 20.12.210), and erecting structures in a park (PCC 20.12.080). On or after November 13, by authority of Portland City Code, the City will close Lownsdale and Chapman Squares for repair and to remediate any remaining safety, health and crime problems.
Portland Police are carefully preparing for this closure, and share my goal for an orderly and peaceful closure to the camps.
I want to make it clear that this action is not an action against the Occupy Portland movement.
In fact, the Occupy Portland movement has highlighted the challenges our community, like many across the country, are facing with homelessness. Too many in our community are without a safe place to call home. Despite fiscal challenges, the City has continued to invest in long term solutions to end homelessness. Commissioner Fish and I will be working closely with our dedicated network of service providers to make sure everyone at the camp is aware of the resources that are available. Experienced outreach workers will be reaching out to the homeless people at the camp to help them access existing resources in our community, like health care, emergency shelter, permanent housing placement assistance, and short term needs.
I have said from the beginning that I believe the Occupy movement would have to evolve in order to realize its full potential.
It is my sincere hope that the movement, with its focus on widespread economic inequity, will flourish in its next phase—a phase where we can focus all of our energies on economic and social justice, not on port-a-potties and tents. I believe Occupy Portland can lead the nation in this next phase of the Occupy Movement, and I personally look forward to working with participants toward their broader goals.
I also want to extend my thanks to: Occupy Portland participants, who by and large are non-violent, peaceful, and dedicated to the larger vision of this movement; Occupy’s appointed liaisons, who have worked hard to communicate clearly with City and Police officials; Our city’s unions, who have stepped in to help with sanitation issues in the camp; Social service providers and first responders, for the support they’ve provided to the camp’s most vulnerable population.
I also want to thank my council colleagues and their staffs, for their assistance in troubleshooting the day-to-day issues we’ve faced along the way, and the men and women of the Portland Police bureau, who have worked tirelessly to facilitate these unprecedented events in a peaceful and professional manner.
And to the broader community, I thank you for your understanding and support of the approach we have taken to balancing the right to free speech, with the need to keep our city safe and moving.