November 28, 2011

Protesters Occupy Downtown Park

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Members of Occupy Ithaca are now inhabiting a group of 12 tents in Dewitt Park, in downtown Ithaca, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Members of Occupy Ithaca set up the camp on Nov. 22 in response to the eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park in New York City. According to Lucas Bonnet, an organizer of Occupy Ithaca, the move to occupy Dewitt Park is reflective of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s strategy: occupy everywhere.

Since the first tents were set up, the number of tents in the park has been growing. The number of tents bordering the edge of the park has doubled since Nov. 22, growing from six to 12.

On Nov. 21, the Occupiers issued a Declaration of Occupation, which not only included their reasons to occupy Dewitt Park, but also included their decision to unofficially change the name of Dewitt Park to the Shawn Greenwood Park. This change would honor Shawn Greenwood, a 29-year-old Ithacan who was shot and killed by an Ithaca police officer when he hit another officer with his car near Pete’s Grocery on West Buffalo Street on Feb. 23, 2010.

The Occupiers have no plans to leave the park, said Phillip Price, one of the Occupiers. Price said that they plan on staying in the park “indefinitely or until we win or get kicked out. Whichever comes first. Preferably the win.”

The park has a set closing time of 10 p.m., when remaining in the park becomes illegal. The Occupiers say they have not felt threatened to leave by members of Ithaca Police, the mayor nor the First Presbyterian Church, which owns the park.

Mayor Carolyn Peterson said she walked over with a park permit application for special use of the park on the first morning of the occupation. The Occupiers have filled out the permit and they are waiting for a response from the city, both Peterson and Bonnet said.

According to Peterson, the protesters asked to remain in the park 24 hours a day until the middle of January, they asked for portable toilets and free parking.

“The request is beyond any request we’ve ever had,” Peterson said.

Peterson said she met with the Ithaca Police chief, city attorney and the superintendent of public works Monday morning to go over the permit that the protesters filed with the city after the Thanksgiving holiday. Though the meeting did not reach a decision on the permit, Peterson said they will continue the permit discussion again on Tuesday morning.

According to Lucas Bonnet, an organizer of Occupy Ithaca, on the first night of the occupation, Mayor-Elect Svante Myrick ’09, several City Council Members and members of the Ithaca Police Department came to Dewitt Park. Bonnet said they were all “pretty much supportive” of the Occupiers’ actions.

Members of Occupy Ithaca said they dedicated the park to Shawn Greenwood to call attention to issues such as “social inequality, systemic racism … and the drug war,” which Bonnet said he believes are present within the Ithaca community.

The shooting was a “scandalous and cloudy incident,” according to Price. Although Price said the community has yet to fully recover from the shooting, he hopes that the park’s dedication to Greenwood will not create controversy.

“[The] incident has dealt a great deal of burden in the community such that there is a lot of grief and unreconciled feelings … We are trying to open a dialogue and conversation that never has been closed, sort of ignored and thrown to the wayside,” Price said.

Bonnet said he believes that setting up camp in Dewitt Park and renaming the park after Greenwood will call attention to issues within the city.

“I feel like a lot of people in Ithaca live in kind of a bubble, and I feel like this is a very segregated city and a lot of people don’t even realize that these issues are prevalent here,” Bonnet said.

Original Author: Margaret Yoder