Members of the Occupy Lawrence group packed up their camp in South Park early Tuesday morning after being given an ultimatum by Lawrence police officers, but by Tuesday evening the group was asking City Hall leaders for a new city-owned spot for its around-the-clock protests.
The protesters were given the option by Lawrence police officers early Tuesday to remove their belongings and leave, or be arrested and have their gear confiscated, said Dory Mills, a member of the group.
“They were very respectful,” Mills said. “At first they gave us five minutes, but they let us have more time. It took about an hour.”
Sgt. Matt Sarna, a Lawrence police spokesman, said in a statement that officers arrived at the park about 3:55 a.m. and that protesters complied with the request. He said the move by police was not related to several reports of assault in the park last weekend.
Instead, officers were enforcing a city ordinance that bars use of the park from 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Early Saturday, eight members of the group were ticketed for breaking the ordinance.
After packing up early Tuesday morning, they returned to the park when it reopened at 6 a.m.
By 6:30 p.m., several members of the Occupy Lawrence group came to City Hall for the commission’s weekly meeting. Jennifer Christensen, a spokeswoman for the group, asked commissioners to help the group find a place — preferably near downtown — that could accommodate their camp. After the meeting, Mayor Aron Cromwell said he did not think such assistance would be likely. He said there are safety reasons why the group should not be camping in city parks. He also told group members that he thought the entire camping issue had taken away from the group’s main message.
“I think this discussion of Occupy Lawrence has turned into a conversation of whether I can camp in a park overnight,” Cromwell said. “It really has taken over the movement. I think some of the effort you’re spending on this issue should be focused on accomplishing some of the goals that you have.”
Tuesday’s City Commission meeting also included several spirited comments from members of the group. One man, John R. Tuttle III, was briefly asked to leave the commission chambers by police officers after he interrupted the meeting several times with verbal outbursts. Cromwell asked Tuttle to speak only when he was at the public comment lectern and to follow the protocol of limiting his comments to five minutes or less. Tuttle then responded with an obscenity, and then was asked by police officers at the meeting to step into the lobby of City Hall. After about a half-hour, he returned to the commission chambers without incident.
Following these events, members of the group voted to “continue doing whatever we can for the movement,” member Jason Phoenix said, but to no longer camp or spend extended time in South Park. Phoenix said that they tentatively plan on holding their general assemblies at 6 p.m. every evening in the park but that they were also looking at other locations.
— Reporter Alex Garrison contributed to this report.