ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–Mayor Slay’s office meets with supporters of the Occupy St. Louis movement to warn them the city plans to clear out the park occupied by protestors living in tents since October 1st.
The meeting of more than 40 Occupy supporters in a conference room of the Edward Jones dome began with a tense exchange between Mayor Slay’s Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford and an Occupy sympathizer named Chuck.
“We ask that you condemn the police violence in Oakland and retract any threats or insinuations of violence against us and the accusation that we are inciting violence,” Chuck said.
Sitting at the opposite end of the room. Rainford responded: “I don’t know where you read in the newspaper, or what newspaper or tv station said that I was threatening violence. I wasn’t. It’s very easy. I condemn the violence in Oakland. I condemn violence here. I condemn violence everywhere.”
But Rainford made it clear that the curfew at Kiener Plaza will be enforced “sooner than later” with those living there in tents getting “24 hours advance
The St. Louis Police Chief was not present and there were no police representatives involved in the meeting.
Residents of the tent community had voted earlier in the day not to attend the meeting, but a few came wearing dollar bills taped around their mouths and refusing to speak.
The discussion swung broadly around various topics — how to balance First Amendment rights with eyesore complaints from business owners, a request that the city withdraw its funds from big banks, and a request for another building or park to occupy instead of Kiener Plaza.
Rainford refused the idea of moving city funds out of big banks, saying the banks provide revenue to the city and fund services downtown. He also refused to provide a building for the protestors to occupy. But the mayor’s office did suggest creating a “speaker’s corner” downtown, where the protestors could maintain a presence and get their message out.
As the meeting wore on there were occasional, tension-relieving moments that brought laughter from all sides. One protestor told the room that he is homeless, but prefers to be called “residentially challenged.”
Rainford also worked to portray the standoff as a problem that both sides share, seeking a way to make St. Louis different from other cities where the protests have ended with tear gas and police action.
A member of the Mayor staff, Eddie Roth, made it clear that he views the tent city as a public safety hazard that can’t continue.
“We feel that we have a responsibility to enforce the curfew and take down the tents,” Roth said, “If somebody gets burned in one of those tents, that’s on