Al Nesby discusses a potential eviction out at Occupy Denver in Veterans Memorial Park on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)
Denver Police Chief Robert White issued an ultimatum Monday in a meeting with Occupy Denver protesters, saying that time was up and the city would forcibly dismantle their encampment near Civic Center Park at any moment.
The notice given at the afternoon meeting behind closed doors at police headquarters was the latest development in an ongoing battle between the Occupy Denver protesters and the city over the permanent demonstration on sidewalks that border Broadway between Colfax and 14th avenues.
Protesters have built shelters, arranged tarps, set down sleeping bags and even tied a kayak to a tree, against a city ordinance that forbids “encumbrances” on public rights of way. They’ve tried to state their case in federal court, to no avail.
On Monday, White said that the protesters have drawn a line in the sand, and the city was going to take action. He did not say when that was going to occur.
“As far as their encumbrances, they have to take them down,” White said. “There is not a lot of wiggle room. A decision was made that that needs to occur. They were asked to do it. And they decided they weren’t going to do it. Now it is on us to make that happen.”
The protesters left the headquarters disgusted, calling the meeting “incredibly unproductive” and asking if they could take the crackers, fruits and veggie trays back to their protest.
White said, “of course.”
“I reiterated that I value their First Amendment rights, but they have to value everyone else’s rights and have to abide by the ordinances of our city,” White told reporters after the meeting.
On Wednesday, the Denver Public Works Department passed out fliers with the city ordinance, saying the items must be removed by 10 a.m. the following day.
On Thursday, instead of clearing out the protesters’ belongings, White showed up and asked the protesters to remove the items. He was heckled and left.
Now, it appears another police action will be coming unless the protesters remove the items.
“We have given them a reasonable amount of time to take (their encumbrances) down and they decided not to do that,” White said, adding that he is not going to say when the action will occur.
“They have to take it down, there is not a lot of wiggle room there,” he said. “Now, it’s upon us to make sure that happens. Whatever strategy we use to do that, that is something that we have to figure out how to do that and do that effectively.”
White said after the items are removed, if the protesters want to talk about their next move, “I am more than willing.”
Patricia Hughes, who splits her time between Occupy Denver and being a nurse, said that the structures are shelters for people who have nowhere else to go.
“You take away the structures, you are sentencing people to death,” she said — adding that homeless shelters are not an option.
“People are safer at Occupy Denver than they are at the shelters, where they could be raped or stabbed,” she said.
But advocates for the homeless who operate the city’s nine shelters say that is not what occurs in the shelters that are segregated by gender.
“We are confident that our shelter community provides a safe and secure atmosphere for our homeless to be out of the cold and the elements,” said Revekka Balancier, spokeswoman for the Denver Human Services. “We know they are committed to the well-being of their guests and their staff provides oversight at all times.”