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D.C. mayor asks feds to close Occupy site

By Paul Courson
updated 2:43 PM EST, Fri January 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • District of Columbia mayor wants to close one of two "Occupy" camps
  • Rats, poor sanitation, risk of petty crime cited
  • Demonstrators mixed on whether they'd cooperate

Washington (CNN) -- Two of the more persistent camps in the "Occupy" movement should be consolidated, says District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray. But demonstrators at both camps are unconvinced they should go along with the demand.

Gray has expressed concerns about rodents, poor sanitation, and a risk of petty crime at the McPherson Square site, a small city park surrounded by office buildings and busy streets a few blocks from the White House. In a letter this week to the National Park Service, Gray wrote "since both Occupy D.C. locations are under federal control, it falls to you to take immediate steps to remedy this dangerous situation."

The letter, dated January 12, demanded "at a minimum, the Occupy D.C. sites at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza must be consolidated at Freedom Plaza for elimination of the rat infestation, cleanup, and restoration of McPherson Square."

There was no immediate response from the National Park Service, and a spokesperson did not reply to CNN's repeated attempts for comment.

Demonstrators at the two sites offered mixed views on the situation. McPherson Square demonstrator Robert Albini said the law is on their side, though he understands the mayor's concerns. "My understanding also is that the (U.S.) Park Police are going to respect the rights of protesters, and our Constitutional amendments, (which) stand on the Supreme Court rulings that have happened throughout the years."

"We're not going anywhere," he said in response to whether he would support a combined camp with demonstrators at the Freedom Plaza location along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Freedom Plaza protester Craig Lewis Stehr said he wouldn't want the McPherson demonstrators at his location because of serious differences between the two groups. "McPherson is basically front-lined by anarchists, and in particular, those advocating chaos in direct action."

He said his group, Veterans for Peace, uses different tactics in their protests, and enjoys good relations with local authorities who have praised Freedom Plaza's cleanliness, organization and more hospitable conditions for those at the encampment. The two groups will continue to join for certain rallies, but Stehr said "there's a reason why we have two different camps."

The McPherson site has deteriorated in recent months as demonstrators and their tents damaged the park's grass, which Friday was a muddy field covered with straw, bits of cardboard, and tattered plastic tarps.

The damage has been cited by a ranking Republican congressman, Rep. Darryl Issa of California, who wrote to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the waste of economic stimulus money that had been spent on the park's restoration.

But the National Park Service, including police charged with enforcing federal park rules, have said both camps are within the law. One official has used a liberal interpretation of rules against camping by describing the Occupy site at McPherson as a "24-hour vigil." The camp began more than 100 days ago.

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