Kevin L. Hoover
DOWNTOWN – Responding to a warning notice served by Police Chief Tom Chapman two days previous, Occupy Arcata packed up and moved its mini-tent city to the front lawn of City Hall one block to the east last Friday.
With complaints from downtowners rising over freewheeling abuses of the Plaza – camping, drugs, cigarettes, dogs, bikes, public urination –and with Farmers’ Market and Trick or Treating coming up, Chapman had urged the protesters to make the move to City Hall.
Protesters had resisted on grounds that the City was trying to shunt them off to a less prominent location. But at a subsequent General Assembly, OA consensed to make the move.
On relocating, protester Calvin Martin warmed to the new site. “We have the Library for Internet and Safeway’s right next door,” Martin said.
Other amenities include a sunny, south-facing patch of grass rather than rough concrete on which to sleep, and the City Hall building as a windblock.
A pivotal hump day
Wednesday, when Chapman served the official notice, was something of a breaking point for the Plaza protest. Along with the rising resentment from liberal and tolerant downtowners, strains had become evident within the Occupy Arcata protest. Those inhabiting the square for advocacy purposes were getting fed up with the “partyers” – those normally seen at the Plaza fringes but who had glommed on to the spectacle at the center, bringing their dogs, drugs and other enforcement issues with them.
Particularly grievous for many was the plight of Queen Doubles food cart operator Jada Brotman, whose business dwindled to near-nothing because of the feral frolickers and the clouds of dope and cigarette smoke they emitted.
Brotman relocated to the Plaza’s north side, but business was still down. A rumor that she had been robbed was false, she later said. She confirmed, though, that she had been called a “corporate pig” and left the Plaza in tears.
“I want to make it clear that it wasn’t the core group,” she said Monday. “It was drunken assholes waving the flag of protest to get drunk in public.” She said the core protesters had been consistently “supportive and helpful.”
In addition to endorsing the City-urged move Wednesday night, Occupy Arcata also adopted the Good Neighbor Policy forged by the Occupy Wall Street mother ship. It forbids excessive, self-discrediting behavior by occupying activists.
Brotman didn’t return to the Plaza until Monday, when it appeared almost shockingly normal after the weeks of abuse it had been through.
The City’s gentle crackdown
The City warning letter that Chapman had delivered (posted at arcataeye.com) cited instances of unacceptable public behavior, including open drug use, alcohol drinking, loose dogs, illegal camping, urination and defecation.
It further related complaints from the small, independent businesses that ring the Plaza that the protest has scared customers away from downtown. “We have received reports from some small businesses that these disruptions have caused significant losses in sales, and in a few cases are already threatening their ability to remain open, which seems counter to the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
Chapman hand-delivered copies of the letter to activist Lois Cordova, one of the core Occupy Arcata organizers. Just two days after a major confrontation with police, only a half-dozen or so of the protesters seemed interested in the pivotal law enforcement directive.
Cordova expressed frustration about the drinkers and dopers. She said they upset the public and wrongly bring discredit to the Occupy Arcata movement.
“I can’t control them,” she said. “When I ask them to cool it, they say, ‘Hey, you want a drink, baby?’”
Through patient diplomacy, Arcata’s police chief came into posession of the key to unlocking – and relocating – the ardent anti-establishmentarians of Occupy Arcata, defusing a potentially volatile situation that has resulted in violence elsewhere.
Chapman spent multiple afternoons bonding with the protest’s leadership and more dialogue-oriented participants, nodding thoughtfully as they offered lengthy anecdotal tales of personal discrimination and sometimes related matters of global injustice over which APD has little jurisdiction.
The burly chief concluded his daily visits with appreciative fist-bumps and back-slaps by Plaza denizens whose tattered garments sharply contrasted with Chapman’s crisp blue uniform. The outreach earned the chief kudos across the board.
On the Arcata Eye’s Facebook page, Travis GB Turner, a leader in the Occupy Humboldt movement at Humboldt State, commented, “Tom Chapman, you are amazing. You make me want to invest in cloning!”
Even “Ulises,” who became disaffected with Occupy Arcata and left for San Francisco for a more intense class struggle, lauded Chapman. As part of a caustic condemnation of Occupy Arcata and its host town, Ulises said on the Eye’s website, “It’s really sad when an occupation occurred in your town the only one interested in listening and working with us was your police captain, Tom, who not only showed great leadership, but a true respect for the homeless and understanding that they also, even though messy, had a right to excercise our freedom of expression rights...”
Mark Sailors, proprietor of Arcata Kineticab, wrote, “Anyone else feel lucky to have such an awesome chief of police?”