Forget the Pepper Spray: West Palm Beach Welcomes Occupy Movement
Late on Saturday night, after the Moonfest revelers had started to disband from Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach, a very drunk man and woman walked around a parking garage at Banyan Boulevard and Narcissus Avenue.
Benjamin D'Avanzo and Ana Halper, members of the Occupy Palm Beach group, were standing watch at the campsite across the street where the city has granted official permission to the movement to camp full-time. Around 15 people were there, sleeping in tents.
According to D'Avanzo, the man was yelling at the woman, pointing his finger aggressively. He walked over to see if everything was all right.
"Yes, we're fine," replied the woman.
Later, when D'Avanzo and Halper saw the man grab the woman by the wrist and drag her over to a bench, they confronted him. D'Avanzo found himself in a face-to-face shouting match with the guy, who eventually backed down.
"I didn't see any police," says D'Avanzo. "I'm sure they had their hands full at the other side of the block." Later that night, members of the Occupy group say, they came upon "an individual" in a parking garage who was lost and couldn't find the friends who were supposed to supply a ride. The occupiers took the person into their camp, gave them some clean clothes, and eventually one of them offered a ride home.
D'Avanzo says he doesn't want to talk too much about events like these, because he's afraid of being seen as trumping up the group's accomplishments for good press. Instead, he said, this simply reflects the vigilant, community-minded aspect of Occupy. "We want to defuse any escalation," he says.
That might be part of the reason the city has been so willing to embrace the movement's presence on its empty lot. A far cry from the beatings in New York or the tear gas in Oakland, the dozen-odd people who camp full-time in the park are on public land with full permission to be there.
The city even offered them a key to a restroom and has to give them 48 hours to fix any violations before trying to evict them.
For an idea of the compact between West Palm and the protesters, here's the use permit they received from the city's parks department.
Occupy Palm Beach Use Permit
Stefan Kamph is a New Times staff writer .
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