By David Skolnick
Occupy Youngstown members say they aren’t leaving the city’s Central Square and will decide today if they’ll replace the tent, burn barrel and other items confiscated by police.
Police Chief Rod Foley had ordered the group, part of the national Occupy Wall Street movement, to remove the tent, barrel, chairs, sleeping bags, tarps and other items from the location by midnight Thursday, citing city-ordinance violations.
But Occupy Youngstown members refused to comply with the order.
About a dozen Occupy members sat in front of the tent at midnight with their hands behind their backs.
Midnight came and went.
About 7:30 a.m. Friday, a police officer gave the four Occupy Youngstown members by the tent a warning that the items would be confiscated, said Luke Walker, who was among the four.
Five minutes later, about a dozen police officers and firefighters took away the tent, burn barrel, three chairs and several wooden signs in the tent, Walker said.
The Occupy members offered no resistance, Walker and Foley said.
“We didn’t want to get into a fistfight,” Foley said about waiting until 7:30 a.m. Friday. “We didn’t want to go in when emotions were hot and heavy. We probably should have been more stringent from the start.”
But this is not over, Occupy Youngstown members say.
Three protesters remained Friday night, and the group will meet at noon today at the Central Square location to discuss its next move, said Brandon Smith, an Occupy Youngstown spokesman.
The group has no plans to leave the location, said Thomas Sabatini, a member.
Occupy members still are considering putting up another tent and replacing the confiscated items, Sabatini said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this continues again and again” he said. “We have the right to remain in a public space and express public opinion.”
If Occupy Youngstown puts up another tent, it also will come down, Mayor Charles Sammarone and Foley said.
“They were starting to create a nuisance,” Sammarone said. “They started stretching what they were doing. It was first a rally [on Oct. 15], then the pickets. Those are fine. But then the tent went up.”
There is no issue with the group protesting, Foley and Sammarone said.
The issue is the tent, burn barrel, sleeping bags, tarps, wood and other items, they said.
Foley said he has mixed emotions about taking the group’s stuff.
“I slept with one eye open,” he said. “Are we doing the right thing? It’s not criminal behavior, but we have to enforce the law and enforce the codes and be consistent. Hopefully, we can get back to normal.”
The city is getting ready to put up its holiday decorations downtown, and the Occupy Youngstown items are in the way, Sammarone said.
“What’s happening in society today?” he said. “People think they can break the law and get away with it. I don’t understand it.”
Occupy Youngstown members criticized the mayor for saying in Friday’s edition of The Vindicator: “It’s like when I was a school administrator, if you give a kid an inch, they’ll take a yard.”
“Democracy is not child’s play,” Sabatini said. “The only thing infantile is a mayor thinking he rules people who want to express free speech.”
Occupy members want to meet with Sammarone to discuss why their items were confiscated and what can be done to clear up issues between the group and city officials, Walker said.
Sammarone said he is receptive to a discussion.
Also, Occupy members plan to attend Wednesday’s city council meeting and speak with council members.