I have been working this past year on street politics issues with the City of Olympia. One aspect of this work has been a push to get public bathrooms available in the downtown core. There has been recurring commentary about the use of the downtown alleys for urination and defecation. A relatively simple solution to the problem to the extent that it exists is to make sure that public bathrooms are available in the downtown area, especially after hours. There are issues with security, maintenance, etc, but this is not rocket science, we can address these issues if the community makes a choice to have bathrooms available in downtown Olympia. We were able to get the bathrooms at Heritage opened 24/7 when Occupy Olympia negotiated to move from Sylvester to Heritage, but that was only a partial and temporary solution. We need bathrooms throughout the downtown where folks can relieve themselves and we need a free comfort station where showers and hot water are available for folks who do not have access to 3 bedrooms and 2 baths in their rambler existence.
I have also been working with the City and the Oly Downtown Association on a collaboration between the business community and buskers to improve busking opportunities in downtown Olympia and to establish relationships between individual business owners and individual buskers and between the two communities. Busking (performance in public space - music - mime (please no) - the harsh interrogation and twisting of balloons, spoken word performance, etc) tends to go rather dormant in our maritime NW winter environment, but we have hit the time of year when it starts to pick up and I have been plugging away with the City and ODA on administrative details over the winter waiting for the sun to appear and for daffodils and buskers to start popping up all over the place.
We had a couple of events and meetings going this past weekend where I expected to connect with the busking community and step up the partnership work a bit, but it took a nosedive for me on Sunday, April 15th at the Artesian Well when a public meeting of community activists was broken up by Officer Pearce of the Olympia Police Department. I am not interested in hearing OPD or Officer Pearce's side of things. Here are the facts that I am pretty certain about:
- A group of folks, probably around 20 to 25 human beings, were engaged in a peaceful and orderly meeting to discuss a range of topics, including housing, nutrition, urban gardening, busking and really really free market economics.
- The Artesian Well is well-known public space.
- Folks at the Well from around 3:30 pm onward were not loud, obnoxious or disorderly. At least one person was diligently cleaning the entire space, picking up cigarette butts and other detritus, essentially "policing" the area.
- A single police cruiser with female officer arrived and parked illegally across several parking spaces early in the meeting time. After sitting there for several minutes the female officer got out of the cruiser and filled a water jug at the Well, then got back in cruiser and left.
- Around five-ish (police logs may be available to pinpoint the time) three cruisers pulled into the Artesian Well space and positioned themselves strategically, offensively? defensively? (illegally parked again) in way that hemmed in folks who were taking part in the meeting.
- The large group meeting had broken into smaller sub-groups at that time to discuss specific topics with a plan to reconvene the large group for reports back. At least one of the sub-groups was sitting in a parking space when the three police cruisers took up stations.
- OPD officers Pearce and Hirotaka (might have spelling wrong) approached the group and Pearce ordered that we move out of the City's private property space. Pearce stated that the parking spaces were for cars and ordered us to move into the narrow space against the wall to the north of the Artesian Well. The sub-groups moved into the space as ordered.
- I confronted Pearce and explained that this was a peaceful assembly in public space, that it was a political activity specifically protected by the first amendment.
- Officer Pearce told me not to speak to him about first amendment rights because he knew all about that.
- I told Pearce that I think he needed to hear about the first amendment stuff from me, that he did not know as much about it as he thought.
- Pearce refused to rescind his order that we move out of the City's private property and said when we left the area we should take the trash with us. The space was clean and orderly. Officer Pearce was literally talking trash to us. The Really Really Free Market was open, banner up at the Well, but anyone familiar with that Market, as OPD should be because they regularly surveiled the market at Bigelow Park last year, knows that when the Market is over the space is as clean or cleaner than it was before the Market opened.
- Officer Pearce's approach was aggressive from the very start. Hirotaka's approach was not aggressive. Pearce never wavered, remained aggressive throughout the encounter.
- The meeting was effectively shut down by the arrival of the three cruisers and Officer Pearce's aggressive behavior. We did not reconvene in the large group.
I think the meeting participants were pretty offended by the OPD actions. Officer Pearce engaged in demeaning behavior and a raw demonstration of his power. Relationships and trust between the busking community and the City and downtown business association have been damaged by the police action on April 15, 2012.
Here is my call: Officer Pearce and Chief Roberts should arrive on foot at the Artesian Well on Sunday, April 22nd at 5 pm and offer an unqualified apology to the busker and activist community for OPD behavior on April 15th.