November 28, 2011

Police arrest nine at Blaine House protest

Occupy members in Augusta decry orders to end encampment, yet still remove tents

By SUSAN McMILLAN Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA - Nine people were arrested for refusing to leave the grounds of the Blaine House during an Occupy Augusta rally Sunday.

click image to enlarge

Protesters are arrested Sunday on the lawn of the Blaine House during a rally by Occupy Augusta. Police said nine people were charged with criminal trespass and failure to disperse after refusing to leave the lawn of the governor's mansion.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

click image to enlarge

Occupy Augusta protesters hoist a flag embroidered with 99%, as well as an American flag, Sunday at the Blaine House.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

About 100 Occupy Augusta members and supporters marched to the governor's mansion to protest instructions from the Department of Public Safety to end the encampment in Capitol Park and obtain a permit to use the park during the day.

"The man is trying to shut us down," Augusta resident Ed Bonenfant told fellow protesters. "That means it's working. We hit a nerve."

Earlier in the day, protesters in the Capital Park encampment took down their tents and packed their camping gear, in compliance with police instructions.

As smaller tents were being taken down by their owners, Occupy leaders said a large teepee loaned by the Penobscot Indians and a big all-weather tent would stay up. The smaller tents had to come down sooner or later because they will collapse under the weight of the winter's snow, Occupy's Jim Freeman of Verona Island said.

By the afternoon, action shifted across the street to the governor's mansion, where demonstrators held signs near the entrances and banged on a large drum. Maine State Police troopers maintained positions near the Blaine House doors.

Most of the protesters stood on the sidewalks, holding signs and waving to passing vehicles on State and Capitol streets.

Several protesters, however, entered the Blaine House grounds through unlocked gates or by hopping the fence. They built a snowman, set up a small tent and chanted slogans from the yard. Some threw snowballs.

One woman climbed the portico on the State Street side of the mansion and hung a banner from the balcony that read: "Human Needs Not Corporate Greed."

Next to the official American flag, protesters raised another American flag with the stars rearranged to form "99%" -- the portion of Americans whose interests the Occupy movement claims to represent, as opposed to the wealthiest 1 percent.

Law enforcement officers began arriving gradually. More than a dozen officers eventually responded from the Capitol Police, Maine State Police, Augusta Police, Hallowell Police, Kennebec County Sheriff's Office and the Maine Warden Service.

Some protesters left the Blaine House grounds and returned to the sidewalks when asked, but others refused. Some stood with their hands behind their backs before officers even produced their zip-tie plastic cuffs.

State troopers arrested the protesters, who did not resist. They were charged with criminal trespass and failure to disperse and were taken to the Kennebec County jail on $500 bail. All protesters made bail by Sunday evening.

Occupy Augusta members were upset about Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin telling them Friday that they must apply for a permit to use Capitol Park by today.

The camp, established on Oct. 15, is in violation of state rules that require obtaining a permit from the Department of Public Safety before any demonstrations in Capitol Park. The state typically does not allow nighttime use of the park.

Gauvin said he would grant a permit to leave one structure in the park for protesters to use during the day only, but Occupy Augusta members say they should not need a permit to exercise their rights on public land.

The final decision to enforce the rules about park use was Gauvin's, according to Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland, but protesters did not blame him, saying Capitol Police have been fairly cooperative.

That's why protesters decided to go to the Blaine House, said Freeman, who was arrested.

"This is where the decision came to shut the camp down," Freeman said before his arrest.

Law enforcement could not allow protesters to trespass, McCausland said.

"We are disappointed that some protesters decided to take this action," he said. "The Capitol Police and Occupy had had a very cordial working relationship."

Freeman and other Occupy Augusta members planned to meet with Gauvin this morning.

Gov. Paul LePage was not in Augusta on Sunday, according to his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.

At the mansion, protesters held signs with slogans such as "This movement can't be evicted," "Speech is free -- no permit needed!" and "Shutting us down will not shut us up!"

Some protesters came from many miles away to support Occupy Augusta's right to use Capitol Park and the causes motivating the larger Occupy movement.

Don Merchant said he and his wife, Sally, came from Rockland to protest "the corporate greed that's running everything -- all the money and all the power."

Appleton resident Phil Sheridan said the federal government needs to reinstate the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act, which regulated banks until its repeal in 1999.

"I'm here to make a show against corporate power," he said.

In the encampment earlier, Matt Bailey, 20, of Jefferson said he was disappointed as he took down the tent he's been staying in for about a week.

"It's been a nonviolent, peaceful protest. I think it's wrong to shut us down," Bailey said before the protest led to arrests. "But it made us a lot stronger, too."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

smcmillan@mainetoday.com

 

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