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Sunday, Mar 26, 2017
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No Occupy Tampa eviction expected

TAMPA - Tensions are mounting across the country between police and the sprawling Occupy movements — the main encampments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia essentially were shut down by authorities Tuesday — but Occupy Tampa protesters and city officials have built a mostly non-confrontational relationship. This week, the group sent the city a letter asking for a guarantee of space for the protest "no more than one mile from Tampa City Hall." City authorities say they have no plans to grant that request but will continue to allow the movement to protest where it is. The round-the-clock occupation is at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where protesters have camped, waved signs at passing motorists and handed out brochures to passers-by since early October. In California, police removed the Occupy Los Angeles encampment overnight Tuesday, arresting more than 200 people. More than 1,000 police officers raided the camp and dismantled what was left of a tent city that had stood for two months.
About 50 people were arrested in Philadelphia. The two raids were the latest in a series of crackdowns across the country aimed at ending occupations of public parks. In Tampa, about a dozen protesters have been arrested in the past two months, mostly on charges of trespassing or resisting arrest. Two Occupy Tampa protesters were arrested late Tuesday. One was charged with grabbing the arm of a police officer who was removing items from the park. Another was charged when he stood in front of the truck and refused to allow it to leave. Still, Occupy Tampa remains relatively nonviolent, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. She said comparing Tampa's protest to those in larger cities "is like comparing apples to oranges." "We don't allow camping in our parks, so a permanent encampment was never set up," she said. "We have just a small number of protesters, who stick to sidewalks most of the time." They are allowed to sleep on sidewalks as long as they clear their gear by dawn, she said. McElroy doesn't envision police clearing out the protesters. "We have a consistent rapport with them," she said, despite the arrests. "I don't know what will be next," said 32-year-old Alex Valbuena, who stood bundled up against the cold Wednesday morning. He said the protest seems to have shifted online, with postings on Facebook and Twitter that keep demonstrators who can't make it to the site up to date on events. Fellow activist Ron Cancilla, 40, thinks the movement is beginning to accomplish its goal of raising awareness of corporate greed and government complicity. "It's waking people up."

kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760
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