Share this article

print logo

Occupy Buffalo expects to stay in place; Protesters arrested in Lafayette Square weren't part of their group, leaders say

Occupy Buffalo demonstrators said Thursday they feel comfortable that city officials will abide by a deal that will allow them to stay in Niagara Square.

What has generally been a cordial relationship between the two sides momentarily bubbled over Wednesday night, when one person was arrested after police cleared several people and tents from Lafayette Square.

At about 11:30 p.m., police told a handful of demonstrators who had set up camp in the square that they had to leave, Buffalo Police Department spokesman Michael DeGeorge said.

Two or three people left voluntarily, but Christina Cooke, 26, resisted, according to DeGeorge.

She was charged with violating a city ordinance prohibiting people from being in a city park or on city land after 10 p.m. She also was charged with obstruction of governmental administration.

Police also removed tents, tarps and other items from Lafayette Square.

In Niagara Square, Albert Brown said the demonstrators who left for Lafayette Square were part of a breakaway group, noting that they differentiated themselves with the name Occupy Western New York.

Members of Occupy Buffalo make important decisions through consensus at general assembly meetings, Brown said.

"Some individuals do what they do for their own reasons," Brown said.

He said Occupy Buffalo is working in accordance with its agreement with the City of Buffalo, and the city is continuing to honor the agreement with the group.

Chris Phillips, who had been a signatory to the agreement between the demonstrators and the city, was one of the people who moved to Lafayette Square. Phillips told WIVB-TV that Cooke was his girlfriend.

Phillips did not bring the matter of moving to Lafayette Square to the general assembly, Brown said, who noted that police did not raid Niagara Square.

"I think [city officials] understand clearly what happened," he said.

Thursday afternoon, Occupy Buffalo released a statement saying the group no longer is affiliated with Phillips.

When police came in to clear Lafayette Square on Wednesday night, Cooke said she would not leave the square, Mayor Byron W. Brown said.

Police gave Cooke a chance to reconsider, but she still wouldn't leave, and that's when she was arrested, the mayor said.

Brown said he's been told the Occupy protesters have raised upward of several thousand dollars from donors to pay the city back for reseeding grass in Niagara Square and for electricity usage.

"The movement is one that is their own. It's not my movement. It's a national movement; it's an international movement of people who are concerned about financial inequality," Brown told reporters during a midday news conference in City Hall.

"It's not a position that I am taking as an individual or as mayor," Brown continued, "but one that I believe, as mayor of the City of Buffalo and as a representative of the people, I must respect their constitutionally protected freedom of speech, and the city has worked hard to do that."

In the Dec. 9 agreement between the city and Occupy Buffalo, Lafayette Square was designated an alternate site in the event the city wanted to use Niagara Square to store snow removed after storms.

Lafayette Square remains the alternative site for the demonstrators, the mayor said Thursday.

The breakaway group of Occupy Buffalo protesters set up its encampment in Lafayette Square on Sunday night. On Wednesday, downtown property owners, businesses and city officials expressed concern about the appearance of the encampments at Niagara and Lafayette squares.

Speaking at a meeting of Buffalo Place, the downtown business improvement district that includes Lafayette Square, critics said the protesters in the heart of downtown Buffalo are disrupting business and hurting downtown's image.

The mayor said he did not see the comments until Thursday.

"We take the concerns of every citizen very seriously," the mayor said.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com