11/12/11; Salt Lake City, Utah: Members of Occupy SL are being forced out of Pioneer Park and the Galvin Center after a homeless man died. The man, known only as “Mike,” apparently succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning and a drug overdose. As a result of “Mike’s” death, Police Chief Chris Burbank ordered Occupy Salt Lake demonstrators to vacate both camps.
Occupy SL set up camp amongst the homeless on Oct. 6. They have been camping side by side with a few isolated incidents. There have been some collisions with the homeless who have used the park for decades as a place of refuge at night. One block away stands Salt Lake’s largest soup kitchen, family shelter and health provider, The Road Home (previously St. Vincent de Paul).
For the most part, members of Occupy SL have tried to provide food and warm clothing to the co-existers of the public park. Recently, the city allowed Occupy SL to set up in the Galvin Center, a popular, family-oriented arena in the heart of downtown Salt Lake. Concern for this location was incorporating protestors with an venue generally designated to ice skating, family concerts, and seasonal activities. Occupy SL has only been in the Galvin Center for two weeks.
While Occupy SL has had the full support of the Salt Lake Police, it came as a surprise to the group that they were being pushed out due to a death that little to do with them. Protesters have until sundown Saturday to pack up and leave.
Some in the movement have stated their resistance to move in light of the death of “Mike.” They state that their philanthropic aid and their relatively peaceful co-existence with the homeless is a reason to stay in the two venues.
Police may be reacting to two other deaths in the Occupy Wall Street offshoot movements. The deaths occurred in California and Vermont.
Outcry from members of the Occupy SL was directed at Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. Becker stated in a news release that the city was rescinding Occupy’s camping permit and would no longer be issuing such free-speech camping permits anywhere in the city limits. Becker stated he and the officials of Salt Lake would try to be accommodating of the protestors' right to assemble.
Anticipation of uprising over tonight’s vacating of Pioneer Park and the Galvin Center is high. Some are concerned that that the move could result in citations and arrests. Occupy leaders are hoping to continue negotiations with police on Saturday in order to preserve their tent bases.
Occupy the Fed at the Galvin Center are angered at their inclusion in the sweeping removal of the Occupy movements from Salt Lake City. Occupy the Fed began with protesting in front of the Federal Reserve Bank for several days. As the weather worsened, they set up tents on private property. They had purchased a $25 parking space, but the tents overflowed. Occupy the Fed was allowed to set up in the Galvin Center two weeks ago. They have had no incidents to report.
Burbank arrived at Pioneer Park Friday to address the movement. Burbank stated that the “camps had become a public safety concern, particularly with the approach of winter.” Burbank intimated that the death of the man would not have occurred had he stayed at a shelter. This statement should not reflect badly on the Occupy movement or the numerous shelters in Salt Lake City. The Road Home is less than a block away from the park. There are at least five large shelters and numerous free feeding stations in the city.
Perhaps the death of “Mike” was a way for officials to get rid of Occupy SL. There had been no time limit set on the group, and it appeared they were not leaving anytime soon. While I have written unflattering information in the past on this group, I cannot see the correlation of “Mike’s” death and the Occupy SL movement.
As sad as any death is, the man had the opportunity to seek shelter, he took drugs of his own volition and he utilized a dangerous heater. I am not againt “Mike’s” having worked for the Road Home myself. I am not pro Occupy SL either, but I do stand by them on this point. The fact remains that “Mike” might have died whether Occupy SL was in the compound or not. I find the reasoning for dismissal of the group to be a red herring.