Protest Persists

Occupy Tucson continues peacefully—despite 600 citations

Alex Maldonado: "Unlike other cities, we haven't done anything to cause problems or make us look bad."

Images of escalating police brutality at Occupy protests across the country seem a world apart from the Occupy Tucson encampment at Veinte de Agosto Park.

Not that the small park at Church Avenue and Congress Street is exactly a bucolic paradise. But on Sunday, Nov. 20, things were going smoother than Alex Maldonado expected they'd be going when he first took up peacekeeping duties at the protest on Oct. 15, when it was still at Armory Park.

"There are a few drunks who show up at the camp, but the biggest issue is that some of the campers have been at the camp from the beginning, and sometimes, they get on each other's nerves," Maldonado says.

That's when peacekeepers intervene.

"We're the people who they are going to vent their frustration at," Maldonado says, adding that most of the volunteer peacekeepers come from a Tucson contingent of Veterans for Peace.

Maldonado says a few homeless people are usually around, but that most of them sleep at the west end of the park and keep to themselves. However, they are welcome to share meals and participate in the movement, he says.

Near the makeshift kitchen at Occupy Tucson on Sunday, Maldonado led a peacekeeper meeting, going over problems at the camp, noting those who have been banished, and discussing people they are keeping an eye on. The focus is on easing tensions while making sure rules are obeyed at the same time, Maldonado says.

Sunday marked the 37th day of Occupy Tucson. It was at Armory Park until Nov. 3, when Tucson police evicted the protesters due to scheduled events at Armory Park. Police also evicted a small contingent that set up an Occupy camp in front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.

At Veinte de Agosto Park, "we have 80 tents and about 100 people," Maldonado says.

Although some Occupy campers told the Weekly they preferred Armory Park, Maldonado says being forced out by police helped reinvigorate the movement. He was concerned the local movement was just about to fizzle out.

"People came here recommitted," he says.

On this Sunday, some campers and volunteers at Veinte de Agosto Park helped sort donations of food and clothing, while others welcomed visitors, prepared lunches or played music together.

By 3 p.m., working groups began meeting, with a facilitator group helping train volunteers to lead the general-assembly meetings and put together the meeting agendas.

The growing number of citations received by campers was on everyone's minds—as was the question of whether the Tucson City Council will come up with an accommodation. As of Sunday, 99 people had received a total of about 600 citations, a number that some at Occupy Tucson claim is surpassed only by the Occupy Wall Street protest at New York City's Zuccotti Park.

Tucson City Councilwoman Regina Romero brought a proposal to the council on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to approve a moratorium on the citations issued to campers who stay at the park after the 10:30 p.m. closing. Romero also wants the city to allow Occupy Tucson to remain at the park.

Although Romero's proposal fell short in a 3-3 vote, she's hopeful the City Council will take another look at the plan and consider creating a free-speech zone at the park.

Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham is one of the council members who voted against Romero's proposal. However, he has visited the park and plans to attend every Monday-night general-assembly meeting to talk with those involved.

"The bottom line is we need to come up with some resolution. The city needs to regulate our parks. I want to figure out what we can do that doesn't compromise the law," Cunningham says.

Cunningham, who identifies himself as part of the "99 percent," is also concerned that the growing number of citations could end up clogging the city's legal system.

Maldonado says he hopes that Cunningham and others on the fence about Occupy Tucson realize that, if anything, the group has kept things peaceful. "Unlike other cities, we haven't done anything to cause problems or make us look bad," he says.

A group of volunteer attorneys filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city on Nov. 7 on behalf of those who have received citations. The suit asks for a temporary restraining order to stop the citations while attorneys challenge the city based on First Amendment protections that, they say, allow the campers to be at the park 24/7.

According to Pami Keenan, an Occupy Tucson legal-team volunteer, the same attorneys are also representing the 99 protesters who have received citations. On Monday, Nov. 14, City Court Judge Tony Riojas ruled that any of the defendants with two or more citations from the same park were given a "condition of release" which prevents them from returning to any city park after hours.

"(If they did return), it could potentially give rise to an additional criminal charge of defying a judge's order, but that would be decided by the Tucson Police Department or city prosecutor's office," Keenan says.

Keenan's husband, Guy, is one of the volunteer attorneys working with attorney Paul Gattone, who filed a special action in Pima County Superior Court in response to Riojas' ruling. On Friday, Nov. 18, Superior Court Judge Howard Fell stayed Riojas' ruling.

Meanwhile, citations continue to be issued every night.