Youngstown police Capt. David McKnight speaks with Occupy Youngstown protesters Thursday night. An order from the police chief was given for the group to remove a tent and barrel from the protest site.
By David Skolnick
and Jeanne Starmack
They were ordered to remove their tent and burn barrel from the city’s Central Square, and the Occupy Youngstown movement decided to take that sitting down.
Police Chief Rod Foley hand-delivered a letter to the group around noon Thursday, ordering them to remove the tent, barrel and other items by midnight, citing city-ordinance violations.
However, by 12:20 a.m. no police had arrived, and the protesters were just milling around with some visitors who came to support them, including state Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th.
Several hours earlier, around 8 p.m., about 40 members of the group, part of the national Occupy Wall Street movement, gathered in front of their white plastic tent beside the sidewalk near their barrel, which was keeping them toasty in the evening chill. They had to decide what to do. Should they comply with Foley’s order, even though they didn’t understand why all of a sudden they had to take the tent and burn barrel away — after city officials and the fire department had said it was OK for the group to have them.
They tried negotiating with Youngstown Police Capt. David McKnight, who’d arrived to ask the group what it intended to do.
“Does he want it all removed?” asked Richard Olivito, who is here from Steubenville supporting the movement. “Yes,” said McKnight.
“Tonight?” asked a woman. “Yes,” he answered.
They asked for 24 hours to determine what was needed to get permission for the tent. But after checking again with Foley, McKnight said the midnight deadline was final. The group can still picket.
“We can work without the tent,” acknowledged Jerred Bowser of the South Side. “But it would be nice to have... to get out of the rain and snow. We’re keeping it to store stuff,” he said.
After meeting, 12 people agreed to stay and protest the tent’s removal. They planned to sit in front of it at midnight with their hands behind their backs as a sign of respect for the police who would come to arrest them. Those police were the very people Occupy Youngstown had tried to help by pushing for defeat of Issue 2 in Tuesday’s election, they kept noting.
In hindsight, Mayor Charles Sammarone said, he shouldn’t have allowed the movement to set up chairs, tarps and a burn barrel after its Oct. 15 rally. The tent was set up Tuesday.
“It’s like when I was a school administrator, if you give a kid an inch, they’ll take a yard,” the mayor said
The group had a permit for only the Oct. 15 rally. The mayor said he waited to address the issue because group members said the protest would end on Election Day, and they were urging voters to reject state Issue 2, which called for restricting some public workers’ collective-bargaining rights. The issue was defeated.
Jessica Arnold and Jarrod Badgett, Occupy Youngstown members, said the group is protesting other issues such as the influence of Wall Street and bank reform.
“I have a lot of college debt and can’t find a job, that’s why I’m down here,” said Bowser. “That’s why a lot of us are down here.”