After months spent occupying McPherson Square, National Park Service police clad in riot gear arrived on February 4 to inspect the occupation and bring it into “compliance” with park regulations. Park Service police began to seize and destroy occupiers’ property. A slow-motion eviction unfolded as a team of Park Service workers wearing hazmat suits moved through the park removing tents. By 6:30 pm, Occupy DC participants had been entirely run out of the park.
The decision to move on Occupy DC in this way was the result of escalating concern from those with much more power than Occupy DC. According to a few emails the Washington Post obtained and posted through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the decision stemmed from pressure from a business association, DowntownDC Business Improvement District, and DC residents like one resident, who happens to be a woman who works for the Tax Foundation, a think tank that has opposed corporate taxes and has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
On October 19, 2011, David Kamperin of DowntownDC emailed National Park Service Superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks Robert Vogel. He complained about the occupation:
[T]roubling is the flammable material stored on site (notice close proximity of the generators to the sidewalk) and the cooking. Also disturbing is the recent stacking of lumber and wood for either use for a bonfire or weapons against law enforcement. The trash continues to pile up within the park and then are removed by the occupants and dumped on the public sidewalks. Recent new rat infestation borrowing has been observed in nearby tree box spaces. As the email below indicates the unhealthy and unsanitary conditions continue as food is dumped as compost, dogs run throughout the park and children (observed in one of the photos) also play where they go to the bathroom.
Kamperin, who had once served as the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) First Patrol District Commander, did not get what he wanted. The occupation was still there. So, on November 5, 2011, Kamperin sent another email to Vogel that was very angry and much more condescending toward the right of Occupy DC to be in McPherson Square:
This is clearly disappointing and it appears that NPS’ only response to this illegal activity is to enable them and make their unlawful camping more comfortable. It also appears that NPS has accepted this and will continue to promote this illegal activity instead of enforcing current laws. Ironically the warning signs posted are still being ignored – generators are running, gas containers with flammable liquids are being stored near propane stoves – a potential grave risk to the public safety of the residents, workers and visitors near the area – not to mention the obvious presence of illegal narcotics (marijuana can readily be smelled throughout the encampment).
Finally I am sure that if these protestors attempted their encampment on the National Mall with flammable liquids, potential projectiles and illegal drugs openly being used the response by NPS would be substantially different. Sadly when activities are adversely impacting businesses and the rights of workers and residents to enjoy the park occurs out of site [sic] of the White House, Dept. of Interior and NPS the respnse appears to e to make them more comfortable. When severe cold weather arrives I imagine the staked pile of wood will be used for a bonfire to warm the campers up…
Kamperin CC’ed someone on this email, but the name was blacked out. Therefore, one can only ask, was Republican Representative Darrell Issa in on these emails Kamperin was sending? Is he why the House Oversight and Reform Committee ultimately held a hearing in January on “indefinite camping” in McPherson Square?
By November 22, the Park Service was receiving emails from residents unhappy with the city. The emails came from people, like Laurie Carter-Dewitt, who is associated with the Tax Foundation. Below is an excerpt from her letter of complaint to the Park Service:
Now the ducks are gone, the squirrels are gone and my park bench no longer available thanks to by Occupy DC. The grass is ruined, the trash is horrendous and the rat population has at least tripled. At night I get to listen to their parties, I see under age minors camping there without adult supervision. I get to hear sex, see public urination and be subjected to early morning drums when I have my one day off — Saturday. Even worse is the knowledge that my tax dollars support this irresponsible behavior by the city and federal park service and that you provide police protection to them as they march and as they disturb my peace, my travel to and from work.
Sounds to me like you don’t recognize who votes for you — and who butters your brad [sic] with their labor. It isn’t Occupy DC — it isn’t the new generation of class warfare you are propping up — it is me. I am disgusted. I am angry and want this to end. Yesterday I read that the Occupy DC residents at McPherson Square expect to go home and have someone else support them if they are not willing to work. I have no desire to pay for this via my tax dollars you take from me in so many ways. They do not have a permit and it is unlawful for them to be there. If I tried to camp in one of these parks you would make me leave. [emphasis added]
The concerns would seem much more valid if it wasn’t for the self-righteous tone she struck when arguing Occupy DC members deserved less respect than she did. It was not unlawful for Occupy DC to be there. Contrary to right wing conventional wisdom, the participants had every right to hold a 24/7 vigil in McPherson Square and the Park Service had every right to use discretion and determine how to police or control the presence of Occupy DC.
Their presence did not ever require a permit. There never were more than 500 people. So, they were allowed to be there just like an anti-tax group of people could go use a public park and occupy now if they wanted to do that. (And, please do because the irony of an anti-tax group protesting in a public park would bring a wide grin to my face.)
One email shows the Park Service did try to manage how the MPD handled Occupy DC. On November 8, the MPD wanted to enter the park and hand out flyers on “DC laws,” which the Park Service didn’t want to see happen because of the “tenuous relationship between MPD and Occupy.”
None of the emails, according to the Post, show back-and-forth between Obama Administration officials, who might have wanted Occupy DC to remain there to advance some political agenda. So, sorry, Rep. Trey Gowdy and Rep. Joe Walsh. Sorry, Rep. Issa. Occupy isn’t an extension of the Obama Administration.
“More than 400 pages of documents and e-mails” were obtained by the Post. Those reading the Post‘s story take the newspaper at its word when it contends the emails offer “only limited insight” into “how Park Service officials made their decisions.”
Only about six or seven emails were posted online so citizens could see for themselves what was being said between the Park Service and people upset with Occupy DC. The Post should publish more of what they obtained through their FOIA request. If they aren’t going to use them for an additional story, post them to DocumentCloud like they have the six or seven emails.
Or, is the Post hiding an exchange or two that went on that would upset some officials if it were made public? Release more of the documents.
*For resources on how to submit your own FOIA request for documents on how a city, state or federal government agency is handling an Occupy group, go here. Firedoglake encourages all US citizens interested in the truth to help investigate the government by using the power they can wield through FOIA requests. Be patient but be aggressive.