Security and maintaining a peaceful protest were primary concerns for occupiers, who converged on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building on Tuesday morning.
WASHINGTON -- Occupy Congress protesters looked to avoid violent confrontations with police Tuesday morning as the movement converged on the Capitol building for a daylong protest that brought around 2,000 protesters from across the nation. Security and maintaining a peaceful protest were primary concerns, as speakers made it a point to outline basic rules for security for the event.
“It is imperative that we make our voices heard peacefully,” said Justin Mercier, an occupier from one of the District of Columbia camps, who spoke on security concerns and de-escalation as protesters filed onto the lawn. Tips for de-escalation were published on the Occupy DC Web site ahead of the protest.
Protestors had their own “security officers,” many of them former military, who made sure participants maintained space between police lines and that police instructions were relayed throughout the crowd.
When confronted by law enforcement or security, it’s important not to escalate the situation, Mercier said. He also said protesters should keep their hands in plain sight and not to make threatening gestures or rush toward police. Other speakers advised against protestors carrying weapons and other items prohibited during protests on Capitol grounds.
Mercier said the group was looking to avoid violent confrontations with police , like one in Oakland that sent a man to the hospital with a ruptured spleen or another where a UC Berkeley police officer pepper sprayed a group of students sitting on the ground.
"This is a nonviolent protest. We are not the aggressors and we don't want them to feel threatened," he said of Capitol police. In contrast to anarchist literature often cited by the Occupy movement, Mercier said protestors should refrain from any kind of actions toward the police even in self defense or retaliation.
"If you want to escalate a situation out of control, then fight back. If they try to take you, just sit down," he said.
By noon, only one protestor had been arrested, according to U.S. Capitol Police. He was charged with assault on a police officer after shoving an officer who tried to remove him from a tree. Police detained a second protestor after he charged the steps of the Capitol. At 2 p.m., the total number of arrests was four.
U.S. Capitol Police are in contact with group organizers whenever large events are planned, said police spokesperson Kimberly Schneider said by phone.
“Anytime we’re expecting a large crowd, we know to plan accordingly to have additional officers at certain locations to ensure the safety of the group," she said. "On any given day we are prepared to respond to a variety of different scenarios. We’re at this level of preparedness everyday. If there’s going to be additional crowds, then we just enhance that level."
♦ Photo: U.S Capitol Police react as a protestor makes a run for the Capitol doors at Occupy Congress on Tuesday / Carlton Purvis