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City Hall confrontation between Occupy protesters and Mayor Rybak has a ’70s vibe

Occupy Protesters
CC/Flickr/Fibonacci Blue
Protesters demonstrate Monday against OccupyMN's eviction from Peavey Plaza.

Tuesday afternoon’s session was not a meeting about putting up tents in Minneapolis.

This, rather, was an old-fashioned protest gathering with an opportunity to shout at the mayor and the police chief about allegations of police brutality.

Activists with the Occupy movement got 30 minutes to make their case.

Mayor RT RybakMinnPost/Karen BorosMayor RT Rybak

Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak and Police Chief Tim Dolan also got a chance to explain their side of the story. It was half an hour of “Back to the Seventies.”

It all started Saturday night at Peavey Plaza when police officers asked Occupy protesters to remove their tents. The night ended with 12 arrests and misdemeanor charges.

Tuesday’s meeting with Rybak and Dolan took place at City Hall in a room packed with those from the Occupy movement, City Hall security personnel, police officers, reporters and a cluster of television photographers.

Rybak was on the hot seat but seemed to enjoy the experience.

The protesters had their questions written on cards, including one about why so many police officers were working downtown on a Saturday night.

“On a typical Saturday night, we have a large force out there,” said Rybak, who explained that with the University of Minnesota playing in the hockey finals and recent problems on Nicollet Mall, the Police Department was ready, should there be trouble.

“This was a night where a lot was going on,” he added, noting that the city did not call in extra police.

Another question focused on nightclub closing hours, the use of horses and pepper spray. Those reading the questions usually identified themselves by first name only.

“Bar closing is a period of time when we have challenges,” said Rybak. “My job is to make sure we have a safe downtown.”

“Will you announce against pepper spray?  Yes or No?” came the question.

The mayor said he was not going to eliminate tools sometimes needed by the police.

“Saturday was a clear-cut case of police brutality,” said a man who identified himself as “D.”  “Are you going to condemn acts of police brutality against young African-Americans?”

“If you think it’s (police activity) not justified, you need to bring that forward,” said Chief Dolan. “You have an obligation to bring it forward.”

Now the crowd was starting to hoot and protest the answers they were getting, despite efforts by some to keep the meeting civil.

“I’ve been part of Occupy since October,” said a questioner who identified himself as John. “I haven’t seen this level of repression since the start.” He went on to ask Rybak to meet with them.

“I just did,” Rybak replied.  “There’s a lot I have to work on in the city. I can’t meet with you again for at least a month, but I can commit to having a dialogue.”

“We’re asking for another meeting like this to express our First Amendment rights,” said another protester.  “Can we meet again in the next month?”

“I dropped everything and changed my whole schedule because this was important,” said the mayor.

Clearly there will not be another meeting just like this one next week. And probably not the week after either.

And finally, a question about tents, the issue that started the problem. Tents were a problem last fall. The “tent” question came from a woman who said her name was Deb. 

“Why are the tents at the Plaza [Peavey] treated differently from our tents,” she asked.  She also wanted to know if Homeland Security was part of the law enforcement team in Minneapolis.

“We have a ‘no camping’ ordinance in the city,” said Rybak, who said he did not think anyone from Homeland Security was involved in the Saturday arrests. “If I was going to break the ‘no camping’ ordinance, it would be for the homeless.”

“Do it, do it do it” came the response.

Rybak said he spends a lot of time working on homeless issues and does not see camping as part of the solution.

“Complete and total untruths. He’s lying.  He’s lying,” shouted a man seated near the door.

“Your police officers are unapproachable,” shouted another man with a list of grievances.

“We’re almost out of time,” said one of the Occupy organizers.  They had come to the end of their half hour.

The mayor was still smiling.  He asked people with specific information to stay in the room and meet with people from the City’s Civil Rights Department.

“We can’t fix it if we don’t know about it,” said Rybak.

“You know it, you know it, you know it” came the response from the chorus.

The mayor left. The police chief left. The reporters and photographers left. Out in the hall it was 2012 again.

But inside the meeting room, it was still the ’70s, with the protesters still chanting and the security people keeping watch.

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.

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Comments (4)

maybe if !

Maybe if the occupiers were building a sports facility the meeting would have gone better. The mayor comes off looking like a 1% er. or maybe he is !

1968 redux

This is starting to remind me of another election year when the democrats who run the cities have to be the adults who try to control the young and the clueless in their party. I'll never forget the look on the face of the frustrated mayor Richard Daley at the 1968 national convention as his police force dealt with the rioting, violence and vandalism committed by the adolescent wing of his party.

Ever notice how when the Left complains about police brutality and jack-booted thugs violating their civil rights it's always against democrat mayors and police chiefs?

Different Impression

I would encourage everyone to check out the videos of the event hosted on YouTube (by the way, Dennis, you should note that a lot of the people in that video look to be old enough to have been in Chicago in 1968).

I got a slightly different impression about both sides (Rybak/Dolan and Occupy) than what's depicted in this story, though it really comes down to a matter of interpretation. It seemed like both sides embodied the contradictions of what they represented. The Occupy movement is supposed to represent how direct democracy and direct action can be used as a more effective tool than traditional progressivism at correcting issues of social justice, yet the protesters' messages came off a bit scatterbrained as everyone got up on each of their respective soapboxes. And I honestly lost track of whether they were trying to ban pepper spray, get their arrests overturned, sue the police department, or abolish the police altogether.

This permitted Rybak to do what he did so easily, which was to represent himself as sympathetic to their specific issues while shooting down the larger project (the bit about camping not being a good solution to homelessness is a great example). Maybe I don't hang around the mayor enough, but in the video I saw, he looked more grim than smiley. Rybak, for his part, while trying to play the role of "the adult in the room," embodied the contradiction in his position as well. Part of what Occupy has right is that the 1% really do control the government -- at all levels -- they ARE effectively the government and progressives like Rybak, when elected identify too much with being "the" government. Which is why Rybak comes off as saying "Make your complaint and we'll address it in due course, but no, no the police are not going to change -- you have no right to have tents in public spaces and a good traffic flow downtown is more important than your banners and protests and first amendment rights."

Oh, Dennis

The 1968 violence came from the Chicago police, NOT peaceful demonstrators. You might want to fact-check your comment.

Re: Democratic administrations -- they just haven't learned yet that it might be best not to let anyone hold a political convention in their cities if they don't want demonstrators exercisin their constitutional right to free speech policed by newly-militarized cops trained by the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and who knows how many others who consider demonstrators the "enemy" and teach officers to adopt the same attitude.

The number of officers who actually do adopt that attitude is probably very small, but can do a lot of damage in a short time.