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Duluth City Hall sets deadline for Occupy encampment

Jay Benson gathers up tents Thursday afternoon as he and several others comply with the police order for Occupy Duluth to remove tents and other structures from the Duluth Civic Center grounds. The protesters have a midnight Sunday deadline, when all but one structure must be removed. (Bob King /

No movement in talks could mean the end of the Occupy movement in Duluth.

Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said in a news conference Thursday afternoon that the Occupy group at Civic Center Plaza has until 11:59 p.m. Sunday to remove its tents and other items.

Ramsay said talks with Occupy members have gone nowhere and the camp has "become a major distraction at City Hall" that was also taxing the police force. "It can't continue," he said.

The group could obtain a permit that would allow for a warming tent to remain at the site, but Ramsay said the group doesn't seem interested in pursuing that option. It's something he wanted so the public wouldn't think the group is getting preferential treatment.

"We would have helped them fill out the paperwork," Ramsay said.

Occupy members said they feel the police haven't given them a chance and went back on a promise for open communication. They said they've heard too many edicts from police through media outlets.

Joel Kilgour had acted as the police liaison for the group until stepping down Thursday out of frustration. Kilgour is a longtime activist with plenty of interaction with police over the years. He said this week's actions are "totally out of character for the Duluth Police Department."

Ramsay said other developments at the camp pushed him to declare the deadline.

"The dynamics have changed," Ramsay said. "There are more anarchists and more people from out of town there."

"He's been talking to an anarchist for a month," Kilgour said, describing his own politics.

Ramsay said Internet chatter on sites the group is using have also caused some concern. He confirmed, as did Occupy members, that some messages talked about weapons and storming City Hall.

Occupy member Tiffany Lee said the postings on the group's Facebook page about violence are from people against the Occupy movement. They've sent messages to members.

"They said they would do anything to sabotage us," she said.

Dozens of officers were called to patrol City Hall on Thursday afternoon in reaction to the Internet chatter. There were police in the lobby facing the plaza late into the night. The group was continuing a "Day of Action" that included a rally at City Hall, a public forum at the camp and fire dancers and drumming on the plaza.

Occupy members became increasingly agitated as the day went on Thursday, especially when they were shut out of Ramsay's news conference on the issue late in the afternoon. It was held at the West Duluth precinct because of security concerns, Ramsay said.

Outside the precinct, Occupy members chanted their displeasure with police and what appears to be an end to dialogue.

"The Duluth Police Department has been dishonest," members chanted.

Jennifer Cummings, one of the stalwarts at camp who has run the food operation the past month, has been calm in the past when commenting about protest issues. Outside the precinct, she shook with emotion.

"We live in a city where one in six people live in poverty," she shouted. "Let's talk about real issues and not about some stupid tents. Let's start dealing with this."

Ramsay said his only obligation to the Occupy group was to work hard to stay in contact.

"We've gone above and beyond, we really have," he said. "What we said is there'd be no surprises."

The letter from Wednesday explains that arrests will be made if the group does not cooperate by Sunday. The letter is hanging in the living room of the camp's heated shelter.

"A park special use permit would be required and camping would not be allowed," the letter said.

The letter said the city is taking the action to ensure the safety of the Occupy residents, to provide for the fair, impartial enforcement of law and to restore Civic Center property "to a state that is open and accessible to the entire community."

"City ordinances are clear," Ramsay said. Asked if there might be trouble Sunday night, Ramsay said he's "optimistic there are level-headed people" at the camp.

Occupy members said they would make no threats but wouldn't say how they will address the Sunday deadline. They were talking about reactions to the order into the night Thursday.

Cummings said that, so far, "we will continue with winterizing the camp."

Occupy plans to have a news conference at 11 a.m. today to talk about its reaction to the Sunday deadline.

Kilgour said it might be time to accept the one-tent idea. Occupy is becoming more active in local issues, and having the gathering spot might be the best it can do, he said. "Occupy isn't going to end."