The city’s tolerance of Occupy San Antonio members who have slept at HemisFair Park for more than two months appears to be running low.
Monday afternoon, San Antonio park police – who have been permissive and in some instances supportive of occupiers’ activities – approached with notices foreshadowing what could be a different chapter for them.
Each occupier got a copy of the municipal code’s camping in public section. Printed at the very top, in bold, was: “You must dismantle and remove your shelters and structures; and collect and remove your personal belongings. Continued violation will subject you to citation and possible arrest.”
“Y’all can’t camp here anymore,” Park Police Commander Steven Baum announced. “You’re making this your temporary living quarters. That is in violation of the rules.”
Baum, who in the past had nothing but praise for the “very orderly, very compliant” protestors, didn’t give them a clear-out date.
“I would move them as soon as possible,” he suggested. “All I’m trying to give you is ample warning that you are in violation.”
Frustrations ran high but were kept in check as occupiers reminded themselves that they were not being evicted but simply asked not to camp. Their consensus was to stop sleeping at the park and instead take shifts to keep it covered 24 hours a day.
“Downsize,” advised a 35-year-old occupier who goes by the name Joker. “I’m going to make it so that in less than two seconds, I can roll up and move.”
By nightfall, occupiers were taking down tarps and loading piles of everything from first-aid kits to electronics into a few vehicles. Some occupiers offered to keep the group’s belongings – including dogs – at their homes for the time being.
“It just seems like it’s going in the direction of trying to kick us out,” said construction worker Joe Ballard, 26. “How do you occupy 24 hours without sleeping?”
Camping violators will be subject to prosecution for the class C misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500, the notice stated.
Occupiers took stabs at what may have led police to crack down.
Some brought up the lack of cleanliness in their area and the bathrooms. John Meadows, 42, who said he has no other occupation, thought it may have been a few members who had erected cardboard and plywood structures when rain fell and temperatures dropped to freezing.
“They said they’d put them up in inclement weather, but it’s not that right now,” Meadows said on the 50-something degree evening. “It’s aggravating because we’ve covered that in General Assembly – we’re here because cops have been nice to us. Period.”
Meanwhile, a 30-year-old occupier who calls himself Shadow didn’t see it as a turn for the worse.
“We need to restart our movement, start protesting again,” he said. “It isn’t that Occupy gave me a park to live in; Occupy was nice enough to let me stay here while I’m working toward the betterment of our country.”
Eddie Gall, 44, a newspaper hawker on Sundays, piggybacked on the need for more action. Having 30 people at the most occupying the park at a given time is unacceptable, he said.
“We ain’t done nothing yet,” Gall said. “It’s a movement, not a stagnant.”