Occupy Pittsburgh told to break camp

BNY Mellon sets Sunday deadline

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BNY Mellon gave Occupy Pittsburgh campers notice Friday night that they must remove their tents, other structures and personal items from Mellon Green, Downtown, by noon Sunday.

"After that date, overnight camping and the presence of any structures, camping equipment, and stored personal items will be prohibited and considered an unlawful trespass, which we will seek to remedy by filing for injunctive relief with the court on Monday," the company wrote on a sign planted into the ground near one of the park's main entrances.

Supporters of Occupy Pittsburgh, an off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests decrying corporate influence on government and other issues, had been camping in BNY Mellon's privately owned park on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Grant Street since Oct. 15.

The announcement comes about three weeks after police removed protesters from Zuccotti Park in New York City, where Occupy Wall Street was stationed, spawning a series of Occupy evictions across the nation.

Rumors began circulating earlier this week that BNY Mellon would soon ask Occupy Pittsburgh to leave, and protesters had begun reaching out to local unions and other branches of the Occupy movement for support.

"Nobody's going to tuck tail," said protester Dan Lichten, who has been working with others on plans to revamp the camp for the winter months.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, protesters said, a group of men from BNY Mellon walked down to the camp and attempted to deliver the notice to protesters. Several protesters said they refused to take the notice and BNY Mellon representatives then stuck signs into the ground.

"We are increasingly concerned, particularly with the onset of winter, about the manner in which BNY Mellon Green is being used and with all aspects of personal safety on our property," the notice read. "These concerns are heightened by reported incidents of hypothermia and the use of propane heaters, gasoline-powered generators, and other flammable devices in the confined spaces of tents."

Don Carpenter, who organizes some of the night watch and other security efforts at the camp, said the camp has not had any cases of hypothermia. He said there was one night when a man came underdressed for the weather and worried he was developing hypothermia but that the man was fine after receiving warmer clothing.

Several weeks ago, BNY Mellon delivered a list of guidelines to the campers asking them not to use open flames and to use only heat and electrical appliances that met with certain codes.

Mr. Carpenter said the camp has one generator to create power but has not used it since BNY Mellon delivered the guidelines. He said the food crew used to have one burner to cook food, but the group removed it and has since been ordering out or bringing outside food in.

Friday's notice came about a week after Occupy Pittsburghers discussed plans to build yurts, semi-permanent camp structures, at the site.

A BNY Mellon spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the notice given to protesters Friday night.

The notice did not say what would happen to protesters who remove their belongings and chose to be in the park during daylight hours.

Police supervisors working Friday night said they had not been part of any discussions regarding BNY Mellon or plans to remove Occupy Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania law lists several types of trespassing offenses. Defiant trespass, defined as remaining in a place where "notice against trespass is given," can be a misdemeanor or a summary offense.

The Occupy Pittsburgh camp was aflutter with action Friday night as some die-hard campers and other Occupy supporters debated how to proceed. Some argued with one another about what details to divulge to the media. Some people passed out sheets of paper asking protesters to list their contact information for friends and medical conditions in case of arrest.

As of Friday night, five people had been arrested at an Occupy Pittsburgh event this fall, most for defiant trespass, failure to disperse and obstruction of roadways at a protest last month at a natural gas convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which is also private property.

When protesters arrived at Mellon Green on the first day of their encampment, BNY Mellon told them, through police officers, that they could stay if they were peaceful and respectful.

Last week, Bram Reichbaum acknowledged that Occupy Pittsburgh, BNY Mellon and the local police have had a largely peaceful relationship, calling their ability to concentrate on survival issues rather than a potential eviction a luxury.

BNY Mellon said in its notice to protesters Friday, "We have done our best to pursue a respectful relationship with your organization, in recognition of the desire of those occupying BNY Mellon Green to express their views."

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438. First Published December 10, 2011 5:00 AM


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