Occupy protesters arrested after attempt to block St. Louis bridge

Thursday, November 17, 2011 | 8:12 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Police arrested at least a dozen Occupy St. Louis protesters Thursday after they attempted to block the entrance to a Mississippi River bridge during a day demonstrations nationwide marked the movement's two-month anniversary.

About five dozen officers stood side by side, waiting, as several hundred protesters arrived at the Martin Luther King Bridge shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday. About 15 protesters then sat down cross-legged and locked their arms.

Officers moved in and arrested them when they refused to move. They offered no resistance. The exact number of those arrested wasn't immediately clear. The remaining protesters — perhaps 500 to 700 — mingled for a while at the bridge, then turned around and returned to Kiener Plaza, the downtown park where the march began.

The crowd of protesters included labor unions and other sympathizers. Some said the bridge, built in the early 1950s, is a symbol of the nation's decaying infrastructure, and good jobs could be created if the government created a program to upgrade things like roads and bridges.

"It's high time we demanded that jobs be created," said Steve Hollis, 61, of the American Federation of Government Employees. "You look at all these bad bridges in Missouri, hundreds of them. We can repair them and create jobs to do it."

Members of Occupy St. Louis had camped in Kiener Plaza for several weeks before early Saturday, when police took down the tents and arrested 27 demonstrators for curfew violation. A federal judge this week refused to overturn the evictions.

The King bridge is one of four Mississippi River crossings in downtown St. Louis that connects the city to Illinois. The arrests came just as afternoon rush hour was starting, creating delays for commuters trying to get in or out of downtown. Several streets were blocked off to protect the protesters as they marched and chanted things such as, "This is what democracy looks like" and "The people, united, will never be defeated."

Desiree Hutton, 42, said she was laid off from her job as a special education teacher and now works at a hotel for $8 an hour. The Occupy protests that have sprung up in cities throughout the country should send a message to lawmakers, she said.

"It's our job as voters to hold our elected officials accountable," Hutton said. "When they're accountable to me, even though I don't have any money, then we have a democracy."

In Kansas City, about 50 to 60 Occupy protesters gathered on a busy bridge over Interstate 70, carrying banners and calling on the government to scrap plans to add a toll to the highway, which they called an unfair burden on the poor and working class.

Some rush-hour commuters waved and honked horns. One protester handed out chocolate chip cookies.

In both cities, protesters lashed out against corporate greed. St. Louis protesters chanted "Bank of America, bad for America," as they passed its downtown office, and "End the Fed," as they passed the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.

In Kansas City, some demonstrators blamed the financial sector for the recession. Jeffery Humfeld, a 60-year-old carpenter, said he thinks protesters will "put enough political pressure on Washington that they're going to have to do the right thing. They know what the right thing is, but they're not willing to do it."

Protesters also gathered outside City Hall in Columbia.

The protests were among several nationwide marking the two-month anniversary of the movement's birth in New York. Most are protesting economic issues, particularly high corporate profits and income inequality.


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