Late Night Crackdown on Occupy Madison

November 19, 2012 by Rebecca Kemble

A little after 10 pm on Sunday night two Dane County Parks Division pickup trucks and four Dane County Sheriff cruisers drove across the lawn of Lake View Hill Park shining spotlights on the dozen or so tents set up along the edge of the woods. A few people were sitting around a fire pit, but most residents of the Occupy Madison encampment had already gone to bed.

Dane County Sheriff deputies roll up after 10pm. Photo by Rebecca Kemble

The Deputies and County Parks employees roused the sleepers and told them they would be getting tickets for being in a county park after 10pm.

Curious neighbors saw the lights and walked down the hill to see what was happening. A total of 15 people – including a neighbor – were given citations that carry a $169 fine. Their court date is set for December 14.

At first, it was not clear whether the county workers were going to evict the campers or even issue them tickets. One Parks employee was going around writing people’s names on a list, but not writing citations. Here’s what two of the residents said about the action as it was still taking place:

Rich went on to talk about the unaddressed needs of the homeless community:

This self-organized group of homeless people was evicted by the City of Madison from an empty parking lot on E. Washington Ave. near downtown over a week ago. Their current encampment sits amidst trees on the grounds of the Dane County Human Services office building, just downhill from an empty 3-story dormitory built in the days when the facility was a tuberculosis sanitarium.

A Parks employee records the names of campers. Photo by Rebecca Kemble

County officials have attempted to break up the camp by offering them one or two night stays in shelters or hotels, but the Occupy Madison campers insist on a more stable, long-term solution to their problems. They complain that shelters are sometimes violent, chaotic places and some are ridden with bedbugs.

While some neighbors are sympathetic to their plight and have taken the time to speak with and understand the issues faced by the campers, others are hostile and combative. One neighbor keeps calling the fire department to complain about a small fire pit that the campers use as their only source of heat. The same pit is perfectly legal in that neighbor’s back yard, but on County property it requires a burn permit. The County has not been willing to issue that permit.

Responding to a neighbor’s complaint, Madison firefighters extinguish the only source of heat for the campers. Photo by Rebecca Kemble

On Sunday night the fire department was called to extinguish the fire twice. A large fire truck with all its lights flashing was accompanied by three Madison Police cars to attend to the situation. A firefighter in full gear overturned the metal fire pit and doused each piece of wood with a large fire extinguisher. Half an hour later, they were back again.

One of the Madison Police officers pleaded with the campers to not re-light the fire. Campers noted that it was their only source of warmth on a night where temperatures were in the low 30s, and that some of them were sick, one with pneumonia.

Frustrated by the multiple calls to the fire and police, the officer asked the group, “Don’t you feel bad using all of these public resources?” The sheer insensitivity of the question to a group of homeless people who have been fighting for a public place to self-organize so they won’t be dependent on public resources stunned the group at first, then some broke into laughter.

“It’s the harassing neighbor who is causing these resources to be used. Maybe you should ask him that question,” they fired back.

Campers are expecting another round of citations tonight.

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