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Occupy Houston protesters vacate Tranquility Park after city order

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Occupy Houston

Four months ago, Occupy Houston began with big crowds and big ideas. But on Monday, the city said Occupy Houston's time is up.

Police began moving in at dark to clear the park but the protestors stuck around for a while.

On one side of the park were the protestors. Just inside were police.

"They are trying to force us into the park so they can do a mass arrest, that will not happen. We are Occupy Houston, we are a lot smarter than they think," protester Shere Dore said.

A few hours earlier, the group was notified this would be their last day here.

"To stand up for what's right and what I believe in, yes, I would go to jail for that," protester Capital Baker said.

At dark, the protestors left as a group, leaving many things behind at the place park they've used as headquarters to spread their message of financial reform.

But they stuck around, circling the area and climbing the steps of City Hall.

As police moved in, Houston Mayor Annise Parker attended a community meeting after giving the notice to vacate earlier in the day, adding that the park needs to be cleared for upcoming festivals. Police presence the past few months has cost the city $350,000.

"We want to make sure that the park is in good shape for those upcoming events and this will give us time to do this, and it also seemed like they needed a little nudge to move on," Parker said.

Shortly after the barricades went up, the group said a final goodbye.

"They want to fight over Tranquility Park, they can have it. We're Occupy Houston, we're not Occupy Tranquility Park," protester Carlos Villalobos said.

Tranquility Park will now be cleaned and have new sod put down. The city says that will cost at least $13,000.

The Houston Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team was be on hand to provide transportation to shelters, if needed.

Background

Occupy Houston claims to be the longest-running Occupy movement in the country. Now it is among, if the last, to go.

At issue is the sheer amount of trash that accumulated in the park, certainly on the western edge, near Hobby Center. When Occupy Houston was allowed camping privileges, some homeless people not associated with the group moved in. The Occupy crowd moved to another part of the park because of it.

On Friday we walked through the area with two Houston City Council members, both of whom saw a public health issue with the homeless encampment.

"There's debris and it's unsafe, it's unhealthy," said councilmember Mike Sullivan. "It's a very poor reflection on the city."

Councilmember Wanda Adams said, "This right here has now become a sanitary issue. Now I have concerns about this, because we don't know how many personnel from Occupy are really here. After talking to some Occupy Houston people, they're saying that's not us anymore. It looks like Occupy are weaning themselves out."

Both city council members forwarded those concerns to the mayor's office. We're told the timing of the announcement that Occupy would end in Tranquility Park was simply coincidental. The mayor says festival season is upon Houston, with most beginning in April, and a large amount of cleanup is necessary in the park.

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