Occupy the Midwest Facebook page

The Occupy the Midwest Conference began March 15 in St. Louis. Hundreds of activists from around the nation planned marches, rallies and workshops over the four-day event.

St. Louis police authorities attacked and arrested a group of protesters on March 15 during the first day of the Occupy the Midwest regional conference. Police used batons, tasers and pepper spray in an unprovoked attack on the protesters as they were gathering their belongings and leaving the park.

Occupy the Midwest is a conference aiming to connect demonstrators around the country and to elevate the movement to the next level. Planned events include four marches, workshops, a general assembly and a march to the famous Gateway Arch on the Mississippi River, according to the conference’s website.

"Occupy the Midwest is an example of the escalation people are expecting," said protester Mike Hipson, 19, in a March 15 Columbia Daily Tribune article. "These groups are getting bigger and getting better organized."

Occupy St. Louis hasn’t experienced much police confrontation since last November’s altercation when about 14 protesters were arrested during a march blocking the Martin Luther King Bridge.
"Occupy the Midwest is an example of the escalation people are expecting. These groups are getting bigger and getting better organized." - Mike Hipson, protester
The running total of nationwide Occupy arrests is 6,475 protesters, according to @OccupyArrests’ Twitter feed.

About 600 protesters from all over the nation are expected to gather in St. Louis over the weekend of March 15–18 for the second major national gathering of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Organizers had held a protest earlier in the day outside of a Bank of America branch and then proceeded to gather at Compton Hill Reservoir Park.

Occupy the Midwest organizers had attempted and failed to acquire a permit allowing them to peacefully protest corporate control of the government in the public park, according to a March 16 Huffington Post article.

The St. Louis Police Department and city officials adamantly maintained that no camping would be allowed in any municipal park and that organizers could only gather at other secluded city parks without setting up tents, according to the Post.

“City officials had indicated that park curfew would be enforced, but the actions taken tonight were unprovoked and without warning,” said conference organizer A.J. Segneri in a March 16 CBS St. Louis article.

About half an hour prior to the confrontation, the city’s director of public safety, Eddie Roth, warned Occupy the Midwest participants that city ordinance banned public use of the park without a permit. After allowing organizers 30 minutes to collect their personal belongings, witnesses observed police brutality, including pepper-spraying and baton beating, after which police began making arrests.

Video documentation shows police escorting a beaten, bleeding activist from the park while another demonstrator in the background chants, “This is what a free state looks like! Look at that! This is what they do when you stand up for your rights!”

An hour-long video of the entire conflict is also available, as well as many other activist video documentations of the night posted on Occupy the Midwest’s Facebook page.
"Our conference is going forward as scheduled." - Rachael Perrotta, Occupy Chicago member
Occupy St. Louis reported that 14 activists were arrested, most of whom were charged with failure to comply with police orders, according to the Post. Two were charged with resisting arrest. A couple of protesters were hospitalized.

"In Des Moines we were able to win a court case against this kind of thing," Angel, a 28-year-old female demonstrator from Des Moines, said in a March 16 Post article. "People should not be attacked and arrested for practicing their rights under the United States Constitution. It's outrageous that peaceful people are treated this way!"

Occupy St. Louis and Occupy the Midwest have also organized online campaigns aiming to replace personal items and tents confiscated by the police authorities after the confrontation. Another protest against GMO-seed-introducing corporate giant Monsanto was scheduled to be held on March 16, according to CBS Local.

“Police violence is nothing new,” Occupy Chicago member Rachael Perrotta, who is attending the regional gathering in St. Louis, said in a March 16 CBS St. Louis article. “Our conference is going forward as scheduled. No city, state or national repression is going to stop us.”

Diana Petrova can be reached at .