At least 17 protesters were arrested in Utah, 16 on Sunday alone, after clashing with Salt Lake City police over the area's homelessness problem. The weekend activists had been demanding more shelter beds, but a count of the city's services show that at the time of the protests there were more than 60 empty shelter beds ready to use, prompting police as well as some homeless people to question the motives behind the days-long demonstration.
"I don't feel like any homeless person was consulted when they decided to do this protest, and this here seems more personal ... because all of the homeless people here (at the park), they left when we were asked to leave, like we do every night when they ask us to leave," Joe Peterson, who is homeless, told Fox13. "There's some good-hearted people out here that do help us. But this is not the way. This is not the way at all."
Peterson said that the demonstrators who had stayed in the park Saturday night "got more involved with their personal agendas than ours."
"I don't feel like any homeless person was consulted when they decided to do this protest..."
The group that planned the event is a subset of the activist group Civil Riot called the Take Shelter Coalition. They set up tents in Washington Square on Thursday and vowed to stay until public officials listened to their list of demands, which included stop ticketing homeless people for camping as well as opening up a downtown shelter.
It took police more than three hours to clear protesters out of the park the first night.
On Saturday, demonstrators were back as part of a days-long demonstration on behalf of Salt Lake's homeless population. This time they demanded more beds, free public transportation rides as well as a promise that police would stop mistreating the homeless.
"It seems like they failed to notice (homelessness) is a problem until we make stands like this," protester Jason DeGraw told Fox13. "So the city officials need to come together and come to a conclusion to try to help these people out."
Another activist, Marvin Oliveros, told The Salt Lake Tribune that police were intimidating demonstrators when officers went through the park on Friday and Saturday night leaving printouts of city ordinances outlining the park's curfew and camping restrictions.
On Saturday, the narrative took another turn when a video surfaced showing protesters shouting at the cops while they circulated the fliers. The person shooting the footage can be heard telling demonstrators they aren't obliged to talk to authorities and to not accept any paper or printout the cops were handing out.
On Sunday afternoon, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown commended his officers for clearing out the park and had a few choice words for demonstrators he called "agitators." He added that the group had refused to meet with him, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Mayor-elect Erin Mendenhall.
Calls to Take Shelter Coalition for comment were not immediately returned.