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Activists Build A Park

In Tempe

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The father of two pre-teen girls who drew the ire of Tempe police is frisked Sunday afternoon at University Drive and Ash Avenue.

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Occupy-Influenced Gathering In Tempe Resists Police Attempts At Intimidation And Succeeds In Building A Park On Vacant Space Along University Drive

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

April 30, 2012 — Police were waiting for a group of local activists as they gathered in downtown Tempe Sunday morning to build a park on vacant space, but despite not being able to step foot on the ground they intended to work on — coincidentally owned by the same organization that owns Manhattan’s famed Zuccotti Park — the group peacefully moved to an adjacent, city-owned parcel, where they planted a garden, played music and held a barbecue.

The aim of the group was to encourage public parks instead of condominiums.

Police remained in the vacant lot at the northwest corner of Ash Avenue and University Drive owned by Brookfield Asset Management, a Toronto-Ontario, Canada, based-business that manages a global portfolio of more than $150 billion. Largely unknown before 2011, Brookfield owns Zuccotti Park, the World Financial Center and many other properties around the globe, including the vacant lot at Ash Avenue and University Drive. Zuccotti Park in Manhattan is where the Occupy movement began in September 2011.

The Phoenix May Day Action Committee had been planning the park-building event, as well as a march and rally in downtown Scottsdale at 5 p.m. Tuesday, since January. The local activities this week are part of a greater call within the Occupy movement for a general strike May 1. Know as May Day, May 1 has been celebrated as a spring holiday since pre-Christian times. Since the 1866 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago it has also been known as International Workers’ Day.

On Sunday, however, police were parked in the vacant lot before protesters arrived at the Tempe Farmers Market about 11 a.m. But before the group could even leave the market’s parking lot, three bicycle-mounted policemen arrived with a warning that the property owner, Brookfield Asset Management, had informed the city of Tempe that the activists were not allowed on the parcel. Anyone attempting to enter the parcel would be arrested on the spot, police said.

Sgt. Breen of the Tempe Police Department, who led the bicycle troops, was pressed by the group to present the letter, but he said did not have it, but he would try to get it. He was not seen again.

About an hour later, the 50 or so activists marched east down University Drive, crossed the roadway at Ash Avenue, and stood along University Drive where about six police Suburbans, several pickup trucks and a few cars, and approximately 50 police were waiting. As the group filled the sidewalk adjacent to the parcel, bicycle police were the first to set up a line then the officers from the vehicle approached.

Activists played music and chanted. After police arrived at the edge of the sidewalk, a few minutes of a peaceful discussion ensued. Activists explained that they merely wanted to plant vegetables and flowers on a vacant piece of land. Police responded that the owner, Brookfield Property Management, would not allow it, and anyone from the group that attempted to enter the lot would be arrested. Other residents, including one elderly woman walking her Chihuahua, were seen entering the parcel later in the afternoon and talking to officers, however.

Having been turned away, protesters moved to the other side of the railroad tracks that crosses University Drive between Farmer Avenue and Ash Avenue. There, they spent the afternoon digging, planting and creating a garden on a small piece of ground that records from the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office website show is owned by the city of Tempe at the northwest corner of University Drive and Farmer Avenue. Although the city owns the entire parcel, most of it is vacant and protected by a chain-link fence. The area that the group built the park upon is approximately 20 feet from the sidewalk to the fence, running from Farmer Avenue to the railroad tracks. The city of Tempe had posted “no trespassing” signs at several spots along the fence.

Tempe police only confronted the peaceful group once during the afternoon, rushing into the area when two pre-teen girls put green, water-soluble paint on the “no trespassing” signs. After the girls washed off the signs, and their parents were frisked and produced identification, police resumed their watch over the Brookfield-owned parcel.

Police did not make themselves available for comment Sunday and the city of Tempe public information office was not available for comment as to whether what was planted will be allowed to remain.

The Phoenix May Day Action Committee vowed to maintain the park for as long as it is there.

John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.
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