ST. LOUIS — Fourteen Occupy protesters were arrested following a testy confrontation with St. Louis police on the first day of a Midwest regional gathering.
Several hundred people from around the country are in St. Louis for this week's Occupy the Midwest conference. About 150 protesters sought to set up an encampment Thursday at Compton Hill Reservoir Park, but were told by police they would be in violation of the park's 10 p.m. curfew.
At around 10:30 p.m., officers moved in, prompting a skirmish that left some protesters bloodied. Officers used pepper spray during the exchange. Two of the 14 arrested are expected to face resisting arrest charges in addition to curfew violation charges.
Rachael Perrotta, a member of Occupy Chicago who is in St. Louis for the conference, said protesters were leaving the park as the officers arrived to enforce the curfew when she saw six officers tackle one of them. She didn't know why. The man suffered cuts to the head and was treated at a hospital and released.
Perrotta said a second protester was also hurt and remained hospitalized. She did not have details of his condition.
"Police violence is nothing new," Perrotta said. "Our conference is going forward as scheduled. No city, state or national repression is going to stop us."
A.J. Segneri, a conference organizer, said the protesters had not expected police to act in such a "shameful" manner.
"City officials had indicated that park curfew would be enforced, but the actions taken tonight were unprovoked and without warning," Segneri said in a statement.
Eddie Roth, director of public safety for the city, said the protesters fomented the clashes by provoking officers and becoming aggressive as the authorities moved in.
"It wasn't police chaos," Roth said. "It was demonstrator chaos — running into streets, yelling at officers."
No police officers were hurt, but the front window of a police cruiser was smashed.
The Occupy movement began in September in New York City over concerns about economic issues, particularly high corporate profits and income inequality. It quickly spread to other cities, including St. Louis, where dozens of Occupy members set up tents in a downtown park.
Twice last fall, Occupy members in St. Louis were arrested en masse — once when the encampment was broken up by police and once when they tried to block the entrance to a Mississippi River bridge. Both of those protests were non-confrontational, and arrests were made peacefully.
Roth said the tone of Thursday's gathering was more aggressive.
"I believe a significant majority of the people gathered here under the Occupy the Midwest banner are sincere, reasonable, passionate but measured people who are here for all good reasons," Roth said. "I think there was a notable minority here to sew chaos."
Earlier Thursday, several Occupy members held a protest outside a Bank of America branch, then marched to the grounds of the Gateway Arch for a "general assembly." Another protest, this one against St. Louis-based Monsanto, was scheduled for Friday. Organizers said at least two additional non-violent protests are planned before the conference concludes Sunday.
Organizers said the goal of the conference is to foster stronger ties between various Occupy movements and to reinvigorate the movement now that warm weather has returned. At least 18 separate Occupy movements are part of the conference.