The protesters of Occupy Bethlehem were evicted this morning from their encampment in the garden just west of the .
City police and employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation descended on the camp shortly after midnight to begin the cleanup as a steady, soaking rain fell.
Police encountered three protesters on site who picked up their personal belongings and left, according to a news release issued by Police Commissioner Jason Schiffer, who personally oversaw the operation.
Other personal belongings, including tents and their contents, were moved to an indoor storage facility and the city will make arrangements to return that property to their owners, Schiffer said.
In an attached YouTube video filmed by a protester, Schiffer was asked why the raid was conducted at the hour it was.
“We didn’t want to arrest anyone,” Schiffer said. “We just wanted to clean up the area.”
Occupy protesters were told more than a month ago that they needed to obtain a permit to continue to run the encampment, according to Schiffer. A week ago, the protesters were "provided written notification that they were ,” Schiffer said.
The permits are necessary when any semi-permanent structures, such as tents, are set up on public property. As part of the permitting process, the group was also required to provide $1 million of liability insurance, which according to Deputy City Solicitor Chris Cooper, is standard for a festival or other outdoor activity.
At the same time, Schiffer said, the city has no intention of restricting Occupy protesters free speech. They don’t need a permit to protest, but they do need one for an encampment, he said.
“Now, we just have to take to the streets,” one protester said on the video. “If we’re not allowed to camp out, then I’m willing to make bigger and better signs and just be out 24/7 walking around. We were talking about outreach anyway.”
The relationship among the city, the police and the Occupy protesters has seemed amicable since the protesters in late October.
When the city began to decorate the plaza for the holidays a month ago, the protesters agreed to move to the west side of the Bethlehem Area Public Library. At the same time, Schiffer, until the last week, has not pressed the protesters to obtain permits.
Of late, the commissioner said Tuesday night, he has received more complaints from people about the protesters. Allegations of drug use, littering and foul language have been made. Library employees have also complained that some patrons are intimidated by the protesters’ presence.
“Although the city has been very patient with the members of this organization, they have knowingly and deliberately decided to continue ignoring any and all requests from the city for them to adhere to our ordinances,” Schiffer wrote in the news release. “These requests have been clearly communicated verbally and in writing.”