Protesters arrested after refusing Haley’s order to leave Statehouse
Around 20 protesters in the “Occupy Columbia” movement were arrested and taken into custody Wednesday night after they refused to heed Gov. Nikki Haley’s order to leave the Statehouse lawn.
It was a poetic moment fit for a final stand: The remaining protesters who had not left after officers’ second warning gathered around the base of the Confederate memorial on Gervais Street, still chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and brandishing signs. A cool November day was about to become a stormy night as police gathered on the Statehouse steps.
As the time passed 6 p.m., the protesters hadn’t moved, but neither had the police. One protester announced that the storm was coming.
“Tell the police to hurry up!” one protester yelled. “I’m going to get wet. It’s going to ruin my hair.”
At 6:14 p.m., Zackary Wise, chief of police for the Bureau of Protective Services (BPS), which has jurisdiction over the Statehouse, stood among a line of officers and told protesters to leave for the final time.
A few moments later, the group of officers moved in, and 50 or so protesters stood on the sidewalk across from a line of BPS officers, cheering those who decided to stay.
“We are the 99 percent!” they yelled, with a newfound intensity.
Behind the police, in sheets of pouring rain, other officers began detaining the more defiant protesters with zip ties. They were taken to a holding area underneath the facility for booking.
The protestors modified their chant.
“It’s not what democracy looks like!” they shouted.
After the arrests were complete, members of the local media began to filter off the grounds and protesters moved across Gervais Street. A reporter and photographer with The Daily Gamecock were asked to vacate the premises.
Shortly thereafter, BPS officers were seen searching through the grounds with flashlights and zip ties in hand. For the first time in 33 days, no protester would be camping overnight.
Columbia is just the latest city this week to evict its “Occupy” movement. New York City police cleared out “Occupy Wall Street” protesters — the ideological heart of the movement — from Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning and have forbidden overnight camping. California’s “Occupy Oakland” was cleared out Monday morning. Officials in all three cities cited health and safety concerns for the protesters’ removal.
At the afternoon press conference, Haley said BPS had found evidence of protesters harming public property by urinating and leaving toilet paper on shrubs. She said the protesters have cost taxpayers more than $17,300 in overtime pay for officers, and if they were allowed to stay until February the sum would be $70,000.
“We invite you and welcome you to come back tomorrow morning during daylight hours, protest and do whatever you want to do,” Haley said to a crowd of mostly press and protestors. “As of 6 o’clock, everybody’s property needs to come off. Don’t come back with mattresses, don’t come back with sleeping bags, come back with yourself, come back with your signs, come back with the power of your voice.”
Haley said the protesters were violating a Statehouse rule that says a group cannot hold activities on the grounds after 6 p.m. without requesting and receiving written permission from the Budget and Control Board, which has authority over the area. Haley said that “Occupy Columbia” has not asked for a permit.
“They refused to do it because they say they are a leaderless group,” Haley said. “At some point, get a leader.”
Protesters objected to this, as well as the allegations that they were urinating in the bushes, with silent finger waving during the conference. BPS Director Leroy Smith said those who refused to leave would be arrested for trespassing and for disorderly conduct if they resisted.
A reporter asked how officers would differentiate at night between an Occupier and a non-protestor simply sleeping on a bench. Protestors wondered the same thing.
“They’re not bringing a mattress, they’re not using the bathroom in the bushes,” Haley replied.
The move came hours after Republican State Sen. Harvey Peeler sent a letter to Haley asking her what she would do about the protesters before the Statehouse tree lighting ceremony.
“We are getting ready for a Christmas tree lighting, we are getting ready to have a lot of families who will be walking back and forth and will be wanting to see the Christmas tree and they should be able to do it without any fear,” Haley said during the press conference.
Even before the announcement, protesters had begun preparing for eviction. Keith Mosher coached a group of protesters on how to handle certain arrest situations, such as being punched in the face. He told protesters to disassociate with those who resisted arrest.
“Make it clear that the individual is not Occupy; they are alone,” Mosher said.
Protesters complied with one of Haley’s orders. They packed up all their possessions, other than signs, into a moving van.
“They’re going to take our stuff for us if we don’t,” said protester Travis Bland.
But they decided to leave chalkboard that contained the words of the First Amendment and recorded 33 days.
Another group gathered to gauge how many wanted to be arrested and taken into custody. Bland wrote contact numbers on his arm in permanent marker, in case of arrest. One protester had already made a sign reading “Free speech stops at 6 p.m.”
Nearing 6 p.m., the number of protesters willing to go to jail seemed to grow. Miria Calef, 65, was among them.
“I’ve been here since October 15, the first day,” Calef said. “Everybody has been very peaceful, very respectful of the law. It’s very inhumane treatment. We were expecting that she was going to do something like this.”