CLEVELAND, Ohio — Police arrested about a dozen Occupy Cleveland protesters on Public Square Friday night after the group had grown to more than 200.
The arrests were made without incident. Police dragged one protester to an awaiting van. But the others did not struggle or fight.
By 11:30, the crowd had dispersed as many marched toward the Justice Center about a block away where the police had taken the arrested protesters.
Police started to show up after 10 p.m., when the city’s public park curfew begins. More than a dozen cruisers, five police vans and an EMS vehicle were near the Square. Cruisers blocked off several streets.
The first arrest was made about 10:40 p.m.
Earlier, the crowd of about 200 drew closer together and continued their chanting: “We are the 99 percent,” “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, the group said its members were preparing for “dozens” of its members to be arrested as early as Friday night. The group, which is protesting what it considers corporate greed and income inequality in the United States, has had an encampment on Public Square for about two weeks. The permits allowing them to be there expired at midnight and 6 a.m. today.
Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration did not renew Occupy Cleveland’s permits because, city officials said, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance had already been given permits until January to install Christmas lighting and displays and hold holiday events on Public Square.
The city has given Occupy Cleveland the option of getting permits to demonstrate on Public Square between 6 a.m. Sunday and 10 p.m. Monday. However, they could no longer encamp there.
‘Jonathan Bowen of Medina said he believes ‘the city is limiting free speech by blocking the group’s access to Public Square.
“I’m not planning to get arrested, but I am prepared to,” Bowen said Friday afternoon. “I know that remaining in the park is an act of civil disobedience.
“I really don’t think the cops will arrest us,” he said. “They have been on our side since we have been here — checking in on us periodically and making sure that we are safe. They understand why we are protesting. They have been impacted by the recession as well.”
Councilman Brian Cummins, an Occupy Cleveland supporter, said the group was split about whether to risk arrest. He said some members, wanting to obey the law, submitted permit applications Friday that would allow the group 24-hour access to Public Square until Oct. 31 as long as the group agreed not to encamp there. They also submitted an application for another downtown park.
“That hopefully will not shut down the whole movement,” Cummins said of the split.
Until the city said it would not renew Occupy Cleveland’s permits, the protest group and city officials had gotten along well.
“Occupy Cleveland has to this point set an example nationally and worldwide by cooperating with police department and city officials throughout the occupation,” said a press release issued by the group.
Ken Silliman, Jackson’s chief of staff, agreed. He said the issue of encamping on Public Square had caused the friction, which was evident during the Friday morning meeting he had with some Occupy Cleveland members.
“It is apparent from the discussion this morning that the most difficult issue is the camping issue,” he said. “City regulations prohibit camping on park property. We are not going to compromise on that regulation.”
Silliman said the administration had gone out of its way to work with Occupy Cleveland. For example, the city allowed the group to erect canopies as protection against the elements during Cleveland’s record-breaking rain. The group then violated the arrangement by sleeping on Public Square, he said.
“Our administration has worked extremely hard to accommodate the First Amendment rights of the group,” Silliman said. “Now it is time for the Occupy Cleveland group to work as hard at preserving that model of cooperation as Mayor Jackson has on his end.”
Occupy Cleveland spent most of Friday rallying and protesting on Public Square. Among the supporters who joined them was Lois Romanoff of Cleveland. She said she had called Jackson’s office to register her concern about the group only having limited access to Public Square.
“They have a right to be here,” Romanoff said. “This is a public space.”