Occupy Filthy: Weary city tells protesters out

Posted: November 14, 2011

IT'S TIME for Occupy Philly to occupy somewhere else, Mayor Nutter says.

Seriously, guys. He's calling the cops.

Nothing against drum circles, but the 40-day urban camping session, which has already cost taxpayers more than $500,000 in police overtime and other expenses, is now threatening to derail a $50 million revitalization project at Dilworth Plaza.

That's nearly 1,000 jobs that would put food on the table of the "99 percent" that Occupy Philly claims to represent.

Plus, the campsite is getting kind of nasty.

"There are public-health and public-safety concerns that have nothing to do with Wall Street and corporations," Nutter said yesterday, showing a flash of anger when describing the increasingly radical protesters who are "purposely" blocking the construction project.

"The Dilworth Plaza project will not be conducted by some corporate entity," Nutter said of the plan to turn the concrete plaza into a handicapped accessible green public space with a café and a fountain that could be used as a skating rink. "These are real men and women. Philadelphians, Pennsylvanians, who need jobs, who need to take care of their families, their 99 percent in their households."

As if on cue, reliably defiant civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson showed up yesterday afternoon and urged Philadelphia protesters to "never surrender," even as officials were clearing Occupy sites in Portland and other cities.

"This Occupy zone reminds Philadelphia that there's poverty. There's pain," Jackson said.

Separately, about 30 protesters from the original Occupy Wall Street site marched into Philadelphia yesterday on their way to Washington, D.C.

Nutter did not set a deadline for dismantling tent city, but he's clearly lost patience with the fractious local chapter of the anti-Wall Street movement that's protesting corporate greed, poverty, racism, capitalism, lobbyists, unemployment, Republicans, Democrats, war, fracking, campaign-finance laws, police brutality and an ever-growing laundry list of mostly left-wing grievances.

The "dramatically deteriorating conditions" at the campsite on the west side of City Hall include an alleged rape over the weekend, unsanitary food distribution, graffiti, a tent fire, thefts and assaults, Nutter said. Public urination and defecation poses a "significant health threat," even though portable toilets are available, he said.

"These conditions are intolerable," he said.

Up to this point the activists and city officials had been cooperating, setting somewhat of a national example of a peaceful Occupy protest marked by few disturbances and a conciliatory local government.

Officials and some Occupy Philly members now say the movement is being redirected by more radical protesters who are hellbent on forcing a clash with police. The organizers that the Nutter administration had previously communicated with are "no longer on the scene," he said.

"The leadership is being hijacked," said Fernando Antonio Salguero, a volunteer firefighter who runs the warming station at Occupy Philly.

"There are a number of individuals that have placed themselves into key positions that want the whole thing to burn, the whole system to burn," Salguero said. "They want billy clubs and they want tear gas. They want to be martyred. I want us to move across the street to the Thomas Paine plaza and continue the good work."

Most Occupy Philly protesters interviewed by the Daily News yesterday were open to moving, but some said an influx of unfamiliar faces helped swing a general assembly vote Friday night to remain in the plaza.

"I'm sure if we go across the street, people will still sit in front of the construction site and link arms. And there's nothing wrong with that," Michael Yaroschuk, 29, a former IT worker from Bucks County, said outside the food tent. "The radicals will be here until the police take them away."

Nutter said he's asked Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to increase the uniformed police presence at Occupy Philly and "establish structured and strategic positioning and deployment of officers on a regular basis."

Asked what would happen if the protesters ignore the city's demands, Nutter responded instantly with a terse answer that sounded a lot like a threat:

"They'll find out."

Staff writer Julie Shaw

contributed to this report.

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