Two days after Oakland police arrested hundreds of protesters in violent clashes, Occupy Miami activists are facing their own impending deadline: Miami-Dade County has ordered them to leave their campsite outside the Stephen P. Clark Government Center by sundown tonight or face arrest for trespassing.
Organizers say they expect some Miami protesters to resist. "It's no coincidence the Florida Republican Primary is on today," says Occupy Miami spokesman Philip Picaza. "They're trying to clean us out."
Update: Is County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez the driving force behind the eviction? In a memo from earlier this month obtained by Riptide, Martinez -- who's also running for mayor -- calls the Occupiers a "tent city without a visible purpose or end." Click through to read his letter.
County spokeswoman Suzy Trutie tells Riptide the Occupiers are being evicted for "unsanitary site conditions." Here's her statement on the deadline:
"The County believes every individual is entitled to express their First Amendment right and has supported the efforts of those willing to do so in a peaceful manner. The Victorian Sunshine Corporation's permit to use the West Lawn at the Stephen P. Clark Center was denied based on the unsanitary site conditions and unsafe activities, which have resulted in a number of arrests by the Miami-Dade Police Department. The safety of those at the site as well as the safety of County employees and residents and visitors to the Stephen P. Clark Center is our top priority."
But Picaza says the county's complaints are bogus. Occupy Miami has been a notably peaceful presence downtown compared to other Occupy movements around the nation. Picaza says the forty or fifty remaining campers are willing to work with the county to solve any problems with their site.
"First they told us we needed to move so they could re-sod the field. Later they say it's for health and safety. We've been getting these mixed messages," he says.
The county is clear in a letter delivered to the camp yesterday, though (you can read the full letter below.) It orders the protesters to leave Government Center -- where they've camped since October -- by sundown or else "be subject to arrest for trespassing."
Picaza says the Occupiers have put out a call for supporters to mass at Government Center before the deadline.
"As far as Occupy Miami goes, we're stronger than ever," he says. "This camp is only the physical side of our movement."
Here's the county's letter to the protesters:
We'll be at the camp at sundown to report on what happens.
Update: Occupy leaders are calling out both Martinez and County Mayor Carlos Gimenez over Martinez's memo.
Dated Jan. 5, the letter shows that Martinez had been agitating about booting the protesters since early December. Martinez cites "various criminal complaints" at the camp and claims an unnamed "federal agency" is watching the Occupiers. He asks Gimenez to evict the camp before the commission passes a resolution to do the same.
Jose Suarez, the communications director for Occupy supporters 1Miami, calls Martinez's memo "ridiculous." Here's his statement:
"We find it painfully ridiculous that these politicians are more focused on cracking down on a few dozen protestors exercising their right to free speech rather than on seriously cracking down on the joblessness, corruption, and economic inequality that afflicts thousands of Miamians. The county's energies could be more usefully spent on solving Miami's real issues and getting our people back to work. Say what you will about the occupy movement, but what we can all agree on is that addressing serious issues and making our government accountable to the people should be the paramount priority."
Here's Martinez's memo. (Riptide called the commissioner's office for a comment, but
we haven't heard back. We'll update this post when we do.)
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.