Occupy Augusta, police, agree to standstill
Members of Occupy Augusta and the Maine Capitol Police agreed Monday to a standstill in a brewing dispute over an encampment in a state-owned park.
A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s office said the agreement was reached during a conference call between the parties and U. S. District Judge Nancy Torresen. Occupy Augusta members agreed not to build fires or add to their encampment in Capitol Park, and police agreed to take no action to dismantle it, said the spokeswoman, Brenda Kielty.
The agreement is to hold until a hearing Torresen scheduled for next Monday in Bangor on Occupy’s request for a court order to block police from ordering the activists out of the park, located across the street from the State House, where they’ve been camped since mid-October.
“ We’re in a holding pattern,” said Stephen McCausland of the state Public Safety Department, which oversees the Capitol Police. “We’ll take no action against the encampment, and there will be no fires in Capitol Park.”
Cordial relations between the two dozen or so Occupy activists who’ve been camping and police began to fray after Capitol Police told the protesters Friday that they would need a permit by the end of Monday to maintain a presence in the park. Tensions tightened on Sunday when nine of the activists were arrested during a noisy protest outside the governor’s mansion across the street from the park. Charges included criminal trespass and criminal mischief.
Before Monday’s agreement was announced, Occupy activists continued to break down their encampment, removing smaller tents and a larger tent that housed their food-storage area.
But Occupy’s Diane Messer said a large tepee donated by Maine Indians and a large allweather tent would remain on the site because the group did not intend to leave. She said the smaller tents were being removed and food relocated to supporters’ kitchens as part of “a need to consolidate for warmth and long-term use.”
“ Winter living outside is kind of tough,” said Messer, of Liberty. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re doing this on our terms.”
Messer said police had proposed a permit that would have allowed Occupy followers limited activities from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and no tents on the site. Messer dismissed the proposal as “farcical” and said the group has a constitutional right to free speech and assembly. She added that her side would appeal any judgment against the court order.
The action in Maine’s capital follows a scenario being played out in other cities around the state and country.
In Portland, Occupy Maine members decided to seek a permit from Maine’s largest the city before today’s deadline. The decision was made after police responded to four violent incidents in less than 48 hours late last week. Two involved men who were punched and kicked, and two were classified as domestic violence assaults, officials said.
The City Council’s Public Safety Committee will discuss the permit request at its meeting Thursday, and the full City Council will consider it on Dec. 7, said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.
In Bangor, Occupy members are negotiating an agreement with city officials for a continued presence in a downtown park.