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Occupy DC: McPherson Square Gets Tents, A Visit From The Police

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OCCUPY DC
Occupy DC tents in McPherson Square on October 11, 2011. | HuffPost DC

Eleven days since the Occupy DC movement began with a few protesters trying to stay dry under a tree in McPherson Square, there's a lot more to the protest than there used to be -- and it certainly looks more permanent now than it did before.

Camping is not allowed in McPherson Square, but tents are now congregated in the northern part of the park -- and there are children, with their parents, now living in the tents. Someone has a puppy, with a purple bandana around its neck. The protesters' food, previously heaped onto a park bench, is now laid out over several tables, near the tents. The protest has created a tobacco exchange, consisting of a piece of cardboard on the ground from which protesters can buy single cigarettes, leaving money that will in turn be used to buy more tobacco. There is also a media booth and a chalkboard with information about the ever-growing number of committees associated with the protest.

Yet as the Occupy DC camp becomes more established, its relationship with the police -- formerly touted as being nothing but friendly and helpful -- may be changing.

Around 9 p.m. on Monday night, three young "rowdy guys" turned up at McPherson Square, said a member of Occupy DC's newly-established welcoming committee, 38 year old IT salesperson Anthony Allen. Allen, who describes himself as a "Ron Paul Democrat," said that he left the protest once it became clear that the men were looking for trouble, but that he heard from other protesters that the U.S. Park Police -- which has jurisdiction over McPherson Square -- came, removed them from the park, and went on their friendly way. So far, so good.

Helena Pirjo, a 21 year old Swedish woman who arrived in D.C. a week ago, said that she was in McPherson Square on Monday night when four or five drunk men arrived and started shoving people and "pissing on the ground." Pirjo said that the police came to help, but that no one from the group had called the police.

This point is important, Pirjo said, because when the police first arrived in McPherson Square Monday night, they were "really angry. They said if we call them again, they will shove us out of this park. Then when they realized that we did not call, they were really helpful and said 'we're here to help you.'"

Jeff Light, an attorney advising Occupy DC, who, at the beginning of the protest told the Huffington Post that he expected the group's relationship with the police to stay friendly, said today that this remains his expectation.

But a man identifying himself only as Gecko, who said he's part of the de-escalation committee -- "We find nonviolent forms of handling situations within our own community," he said -- told The Huffington Post that Occupy DC's official position is that the police had nothing to do with the protesters in McPherson Square on Monday night. "We didn't speak to any police last night," he said. "They were handling a different situation. It was not related to what's happening here with Occupy DC, so we didn't get involved."

Brian Grimes, 34, said that the police have told Occupy DC that they should police their own people. "If we invite them in to do their job, once they're in, they're going to come in and do their job. Until we invite them in, from what I can tell, they're going to be as cool with us as possible."

He also thinks that it'd be hard for the police to make the Occupy DC protesters to remove their tents from McPherson Square, so long as they keep allowing a separate but related protest, Stop the Machine, to have tents up in Freedom Plaza. (Not incidentally, each protest is considering creating a liaison committee, to normalize relations with the other protest).

It remains unclear how negotiations between the Freedom Plaza protesters and the police will pan out. The protest leaders who met with the Park Police on Monday to talk about the four month extension of their protest permit returned saying that the police had said the extended permit would allow for the same activities as the original permit. The original Freedom Plaza permit didn't allow for camping, either.

Stop the Machine's relationship with the police has evolved since the protest began, much like Occupy D.C.'s has. Tuesday, one Stop the Machine march on Capitol Hill led to six arrests; a second "Stop the Machine" visit to the Senate, to protest free trade bills, led to another four arrests.

More marches and rallies are planned for later, before both camps tucker into their respective tents for the night.

Park Police spokespersons did not return The Huffington Post's request for information about the protests.

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