PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – The last visible remnants of the 2011 Occupy Portland movement held court in front of City Hall for nearly two years. A community of sign-holding, slogan-chanting, pot-banging protesters brought noise and attention to the city’s acute homeless problem.
The mostly homeless protesters set up camp after police ordered the removal of tents and other structures from the 300-person Occupy Portland encampment in late 2011.
On Tuesday, the encampment of about 30 people in front of City Hall was also forced out by police in a much less dramatic fashion, five days after city workers hung eviction notices from nearby trees.
As the protesters left, some crossed the street to yell as workers hosed down the sidewalk. Shouts of “This is a police state!” echoed near a police press conference. Some protesters said the police turnout was an overreaction.
Ultimately, the City Hall encampment was plagued by the same ills as its predecessor: An unclear message, complaints from the community and the significant presence of a homeless population that eventually dominated the protest.
The protesters, many of whom identified with the Occupy movement on Tuesday, sought to focus attention on Portland’s homeless population, who say the city feeds them but doesn’t provide enough places to stay.
By early this summer, occasional catcalls and violence drew complaints from residents and business owners who visited City Hall. Mayor Charlie Hales said the encampment deterred people from entering City Hall and intimidated those working inside.
Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said the protesters dispersed without violence or resistance, although some said they plan to return.
“Our officers know that everything they do is being recorded by the media and by the crowd,” Simpson said. Police brought their own recording equipment to document the dispersal.
“This morning, an overwhelming amount of government funds went into picking up trash on the sidewalk,” said Sawyer Sherman, 19, a protester at the site for the last four months.
Sherman said the protest will continue in some form, and despite the police presence on Tuesday, it’s unclear what effect the dispersal will have.
Many protesters remained in the area and some held signs pledging to return.
Inmate crews supervised by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office packed the remains of the encampment across the street from the former protest. Toothbrushes, torn pieces of fabric and clothing were stuffed into plastic bags and removed.
Relatively lenient city policies and mild weather have long attracted the homeless to Portland, particularly in the summer.
Hales said he has had more than 100 police calls to the block around City Hall in the last six months. He said he’s heard reports of open drug use and public sex.
Trevor Matney, 33, handcuffed himself to a tree next to the protest for five days, but dispersed with the rest of the crowd on Tuesday morning. Matney acknowledges that some protesters may have brought unwanted attention to the encampment by heckling passersby, but says that’s part of their First Amendment rights.
He said he expects the protest and encampment to resume on Tuesday night.
“We’re still planning on being here,” Matney said. “The goal here is awareness.”
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