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Duluth police clear Civic Center camp; Occupy Duluth members debate next steps

Officers load plastic sheeting, wood and other materials taken from Occupy Duluth's Civic Center camp into a Fire Department pickup truck Tuesday morning.

After having their camp cleared by police early Tuesday, Occupy Duluth members debated Tuesday what their next steps might be.

For some, the immediate response to the eviction was sleep after two restless nights since police gave the group a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Sunday to leave the plaza. Others met to discuss next steps Tuesday evening in the downtown skywalk. Some planned a candlelight vigil for midnight to 3 a.m., defying a city curfew at the Civic Center Plaza and risking arrest.

But as midnight passed, only a couple of Occupy Duluth protesters came to the plaza.

"The revolution might be too tired tonight," said Jesse Peterson, one of those protesters.

Police had roused the protesters about 6 a.m. before taking down the last two tents at the encampment and removing other items. Duluth Police Assistant Chief Mike Tusken said about 11 protesters were at the camp when officers arrived. There were no arrests.

"It went off pretty well," Tusken said. "They are upset we took down their structure."

Police removed the tents at 6:20 a.m. Protesters were told that because it was after 6 a.m., the plaza was open and they were free to stay -- the tents were the only items that had to be removed.

"Folks, we're going to take down the tent. It's illegal to have the tent in a public park, I know we've discussed this previously," Tusken told the protesters. "Your being here in the park during park hours and doing demonstrations -- demonstrations happen here regularly, that's OK. It's just the structure that's really the issue. ... We're not removing you from being here, we're removing this structure."

Several protesters refused to leave the larger tent as police were disassembling it. The tent was removed from around them as they sat on blankets and wood pallets inside. Eventually, police had to pull blankets and pallets out from under the protesters.

By 7 a.m. officers were loading the remnants of the structure and other camp equipment into city vehicles as protesters in the group yelled at the officers. Tusken told the protesters that their belongings would be taken to the police property room and released to them later.

Protester Tyler Nord said in the morning that returning to the Civic Center site -- possibly past the midnight curfew -- was an option.

By evening there was lukewarm response to the idea of setting up on some public property, or even inside City Hall, with the threat of arrest.

"They took us off the map," protester Scot Bol said. "I don't think we should be off the map."

Occupy member Jennifer Cummings said it wasn't easy to give up the plaza, and she urged members to write about their experiences there.

"That place is a symbol for us," she said.

Mayor Don Ness said the group needs to focus on its message rather than on where it delivers it.

"I hope people in the local Occupy movement will use this change of circumstances as an opportunity to refocus their energies toward the issues and principles the movement was founded on," he said, "rather than questions of camping, porta-potties and conflicts with police distracting people from their mission."

Occupy members plan to march with the Duluth American Indian Commission today to highlight the historical treatment of American Indians. Other members will demonstrate at the free holiday meal Thursday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to say "thank you" for feeding the homeless.

Members planned to attend a farm policy forum Tuesday night at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and they discussed "occupying" in front of homes slated for foreclosure as a venue to debate bank lending policies.

Police costs

Up to seven Duluth police officers incurred overtime taking down the Occupy structures, spokesman Jim Hansen said. The overtime could top out at 10 to 12 hours for the officers, which at an average cost of $45 an hour could total up to $540.

Hansen said the overtime costs could have been higher, but officers planned to take down the tents during a shift change, when more police were available.

Police ended up cleaning almost the entire site, Hansen said.

Duluth News Tribune reporters Mike Creger, Steve Kuchera and Andrew Krueger wrote this story.