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Police Dismantle Occupy Baltimore Encampment

December 13, 2011

Baltimore police evicted about 40 Occupy Baltimore campers from McKeldin square this morning a little after 3 a.m., the Sun reported.  More than half the occupants of the  encampment reportedly boarded buses authorities said would take them to one of the city’s homeless shelters.

There were no arrests and no violence.

On-site message board, Occupy Baltimore, late November

The action marked a long-anticipated turning point in an outpost of the international Occupy movement that had shown stress fissures for weeks, as the initial organizers of the encampment gave way to homeless people, and the downtown occupation site became the kind of place where a person could leave a pet cat unattended in their tent for a week, then allegedly stab someone who confronted them about it when they returned.

Issues of safety had challenged the encampment from its early days. As the makeup of the people on-site evolved and changed, many of the young activists who started the movement came to the site less and less, preferring to discuss the movement’s plans and philosophies off site or over the several internet message boards that group established.

Beginning a few weeks ago, “emergency food requests” began to regularly appear on Occupy’s Google message board. Attendance dwindled at the iconic “general assemblies,” which were supposed to be held each evening on the square so that the group could decide what it wanted to do through consensus. On Dec. 9 there was no general assembly.

Tom Keifaber, former owner of the Senator Theater and losing candidate for City Council president, began criticizing Occupy members on the local group’s internet message board, prompting the creation of a “moderated” Google Group board to keep Keifaber out. (Anyone can join, but “trolls”—those who engage in ad hominem attacks, off-topic rants, and general obtuseness—can be banned.)

The distance between the Google board and the encampment was illustrated in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, when people began posting about the police raid. It was after 7 a.m. when a person who was on site finally chimed in to tell the cyber occupiers what had happened:

I was there at approx 3am more then 150 police officers stealthly suround the square with themselves and barricades all with riot gear and long wooden knightsticks in hand. Major brown informed myself and the 9 of us on site at tht moment that we had approx 30 min to gather our belongings and vacate. They also handed us a paper detailing where we can retrieve our things which so happens to be a baltimore city dump. No arrest were made and no violence occurred.

Reporters from the Baltimore Brew, which has done the best (outside) reporting on the encampment, arrived shortly after that. They found Mike Gibb and a handful of others at the corner of Pratt and Light streets watching the city sanitation crew finish piling the groups’ stuff—including a wheelchair—into trash trucks. Here’s the Brew:

“The police were respectful,” said Gibb, who said he’d been living at McKeldin Square for about 10 days. “This was probably the best of any Occupy evictions there’s been.”

Several people quoted by the Sun and the Brew complained that their stuff was taken. City officials said items from the encampment would be held at 701 Reedbird Ave. until Tuesday, Dec. 20, according to a message on Occupy’s moderated Google message board:

A team is at the site organizing items. We are focused on large camp wide items. Please make arrangements to pick up personal items.

Members of the movement were trying to arrange another general assembly today. They have been considering strategies to keep the movement going after the eviction for several weeks, but it was unclear what form or forms those strategies would take.

The Brew quoted Damien Nichols, who says that the perception that Occupy Baltimore is ending is in error:

“There has been a great deal of activity online and in peoples’ living rooms. We are focusing on problems in the city and going into the community. There’s a lot more from us to come.”

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