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Police use pepper spray, clear Occupy Tulsa protesters from a downtown park

Police use pepper spray, clear Occupy Tulsa protesters from a downtown park

Police use pepper spray, clear Occupy Tulsa protesters from a downtown park
Photo Credit: Russell Mills
Tulsa police clear Occupy Tulsa protesters from a downtownpark

Police use pepper spray, clear Occupy Tulsa protesters from a downtown park

Dozens of police officers moved in and cleared a downtown Tulsa park of protesters early Wednesday morning.

The confrontation took place about 2:00 a.m. at Centennial Green, located along S. 6th Street between Main and Boston Avenue.

Officers used pepper spray on several individuals, prompting loud protests and anger from the assembled "Occupy Tulsa" members.

TPD Deputy Chief Daryl Webster says officers arrested nine protesters for violating the city's park curfew.

All city parks, by ordinance, are off-limits from 11:00 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Shortly after 11:00 p.m., Chief Webster arrived on the scene to speak to the protesters. He told them about the curfew, and explained that they could continue to occupy the area -- as long as they were on the sidewalk, and not inside the park itself.

He also explained that they would have to remove four tents which the protesters had pitched in the park. He told them they could take them down and move them to the sidewalk as well, but that another ordinance bans tents from being erected on sidewalks.

Earlier, Occupy Tulsa member Sam Molik told KRMG that the protesters planned to move the tents, but that several of the group's members had "volunteered" to engage in civil disobedience and risk arrest.

Those protesters then formed a circle on the grass near the tents, and the group set in to wait for the police.

After a couple of false alarms and tips from "anonymous" indicating that police were on the way, protesters began singing songs and reading aloud from various documents, including the Bill of Rights and literature espoused by the national "Occupy" movement.

A guitarist showed up to play some protest songs, and many of the protesters also sang a song about solidarity, set to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Just before 2:00 a.m., a murmur went through the crowd as several police vehicles began deploying in a parking lot just south of the park.

Additional police units blocked off intersections, and several vans from the jail arrived in anticipation of transporting prisoners.

Members of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office were also on hand, and 2 EMSA ambulances eventually arrived as well.

After spending about ten minutes deploying, police used a loudspeaker to address the protesters.

They were told that they were in violation of city ordinance, and asked to leave. They answered, chanting, that they "respectfully declined" to comply.

After a second announcement, several lines of officers quickly formed on the south side of the park, and moved forward.

They encircled the protesters who had stayed on the grass, sitting in a circle with their arms interlocked.

More officers deployed along the perimeter of the park, face to face with the rest of the protesters on the sidewalk.

Then arrest teams began moving up and one by one, they removed each of the people in the circle, handcuffed them, and carried them to a nearby van.

Several of the protesters were pepper sprayed by the arresting officers.

Chief Webster told reporters later that "only protesters who actively resisted" were pepper sprayed.

None of the protesters was observed to physically threaten any of the officers; however, the protesters had linked arms and did refuse to move when so ordered.

That doesn't matter, said protester Stephanie Lewis. She says police went out of their way earlier in the day to meet with the Occupy Tulsa members and explain how they could be arrested without the use of any force.

"They pepper sprayed point-blank in people's faces," she said. "They said they would not do that if we abided by the rules."

She went on to say that the police department "came to our meeting and said if you guys sit like this, we will not pepper spray you."

"They said if we were sitting down on the ground, and held our hands like this, we would not be arrested." 

Asked about the use of pepper spray, Chief Webster said simply "pepper spray is used in cases where there is resistance. In this case, it was only used only on persons that were actively resisting arrest."

Lewis responded moments later by telling KRMG "everything he said to you right here is a freaking lie."

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