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Protesters peacefully leave Marshall Park

They heed midday notice of closure and week leaders laud as going‘extremely well’

By April Bethea, Joe Marusak and Karen Sullivan
abethea@charlotteobserver.com,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Protesters peacefully exited Marshall Park on Friday shortly after the noon deadline came for them to leave.

Jim Garges, director of the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, spoke into a loudspeaker after noon struck, telling people the park was closed.

About that time, park and recreation workers started picking up trash while more than a dozen police officers stood in the adjacent parking lot.

Protesters vacated the park slowly.

“It seems not everyone got the announcement,” Garges said into the loudspeaker. “The park is closed.”

“We’re working on it!” one woman replied as she gathered autographs from fellow protesters on one of the temporary signs posted Friday morning announcing the park’s closure.

By 12:15 p.m., police were walking throughout the park, urging protesters to head out. By 12:45 p.m., the last of the protesters walked out of the park. About 25 of them stood on a nearby sidewalk, apparently waiting for a ride.

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones visited as protesters were leaving and said he thought things had gone “extremely well.”

He also praised the protesters.

“There has been very good collaboration between the police, the city and the county. And the cooperation of the campers has been excellent,” he said. “We were very pleased to make this happen. This is a very good ending to a very good week.”

A parks and recreation worker said that, for the most part, the protesters had picked up after themselves. He said he’d seen people using ashtrays rather than tossing cigarettes to the ground.

The police and protesters had some skirmishes during the week. None became violent. Police usually outnumbered protesters.

On Tuesday, about 200 marchers were stopped when they tried to make their way up Stonewall Street. About 300 police surrounded them, completely blocking off the intersection of Stonewall and Caldwell streets. Protesters pitched a tent at the ordinarily busy intersection.

The nearly two-hour standoff ended when police allowed about 100 demonstrators to walk up the sidewalk toward the heart of uptown.

On Friday, protester Harris Ntabakos, 30, from Washington, D.C., said he felt the heavy police presence was at times suffocating and wasn’t necessary.

“We haven’t made anybody angry. We’ve been peaceful,” he said as he prepared to leave Marshall Park. “This is a little overboard.”

Some Occupy Charlotte protesters began setting up camp in Marshall Park over the weekend, and remained there throughout this week’s Democratic National Convention.

Frazier Park was a staging ground for the March on Wall Street South march that wound through uptown on Sunday. The county posted signs warning people that Marshall and Frazier parks in uptown would close at noon Friday.

At the same time, portable bathrooms that had been set up on the properties were removed.

As the two-man crew was removing the last toilet around 9 a.m., campers ran up asking them to please not take it.

Evan Kelley of Jacksonville, Fla., said he was one of the last people to use a port-a-jon at the park. He said he tried to wake people to warn them the toilets were being taken away.

“The city was handling things very well until this incident,” he said. “To leave everyone without a place to go the bathroom, there’s no excuse for that.”

Kelley said it leaves people with no option but to relieve themselves in “places that they shouldn’t.”

Camping is generally prohibited on county property, including parks. Local officials said they did not explicitly grant protesters permission to remain at the parks this week. But they suggested the city and county were inclined to let protesters stay overnight as long as trouble did not arise.

Garges, the parks director, said the cleanup should be complete by the weekend and parks re-opened.

Marshall and Frazier were among 10 parks that county officials previously announced would not take field and shelter reservations for a little more than a week around the DNC. The prohibition on reservations was set to run through Saturday.

Kelley said he planned to stay in Charlotte for a few more days to see the city.

He said he might stay in a hotel but, pointing to his backpack, said he was prepared to do some “urban camping” if necessary.

Kerry Singe and Meghan Cooke contributed.

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