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SALT LAKE CITY -- Members of the Occupy Salt Lake City group staged a silent, peaceful protest outside Salt Lake City police headquarters overnight. The group of about 25 people claims police are targeting and harassing homeless people in Pioneer Park.
Police say they have been policing this park long before the Occupy Salt Lake City protestors started camping here, and they say they're not going to change that. Occupy protestors say police are going to far and that's what last night's protest was all about.
Group members said they've seen it happen during the Occupy Salt Lake General Assembly meetings in the park. They cite an increasing number of police roaming the park and ticketing the homeless for smoking or standing on the sidewalk. Demonstrators feel police are not treating the homeless with the same respect shown the protesters.
Of course, no one is going to tell me that (they are a drug dealer). But I hear they're mad. I hear that we're ruining their business. That they have to move to another park.
"They keep going from one tent to another tent," said Ali, a protester."
He said last night Salt Lake City police were moving through out their camp looking for reasons to arrest or ticket people.
"The police have been very cooperative with us in general, but the police here in the city have had a history with harassing the community at the park. That's something I was aware of a long time before this," another protester said.
That protester claimed one man in particular was accused of theft. He brought his complaint to the Occupy Salt Lake group.
"Regardless of how politely they treat the middle class protesters, we felt it was vital that his voice be heard, and that we stand in solidarity with him," the protester said.
Ali said that there are peacekeepers in the camp who can deal with difficult situations.
"I said those cops go and do their jobs, but if something goes wrong, we have committees," said Ali.
Lt. Dave Cracroft told KSL that drug dealers and the homeless are taking advantage of the fact that the park is occupied by the protesters overnight. He said they've been dealing drugs and drinking. He said police are in the park to help control the situation.
SLCPD Sgt. Jenn Diederich's beat centers around the park, and she has been working with Occupy SLC frequently, on the ground in the park.
"I haven't seen a really huge difference either way," she said, referring to drug use in the park.
Still, she also said that they'd be "increasing presence a little bit out of safety for everybody. So there are a few more hours that we're here."
But one protester who is in close contact with the homeless community in the park said that the police were selectively targeting the homeless.
"The funny thing is they weren't giving tickets to the campers, they were giving tickets only to the homeless people," he said.
"(The police) are not here to bring peace and protection to the people here. For some reason, their efforts here are directed to the homeless people. That's how the homeless people in the park feel."
A woman who has worked closely with the Occupy SLC movement since they came to the park referred to this as getting a "homeless ticket," and said that she had often been singled out for an infraction like jaywalking and smoking when someone of another class would not be given a citation.
"I'm harassed on practically a daily basis," she said.
Lt. Cracroft said police have had no problems with the Occupy group camping in Pioneer Park; they have a permit to be there. The overnight protesters said they've taken in the homeless population as part of their group and they, also, should be treated well by police.
Salt Lake City Police Detective Dennis McGowan said what's happening in Pioneer Park is not harassment. He said patrol officers are simply doing their jobs.
"When drinking in the park becomes an issue, drug dealing, smoking - those rights are not guaranteed and the police are here for a reason, and we're going to enforce those statutes," said McGowan.
Pioneer Park has long been a place where drug use and dealing have occurred. But some protesters think that drugs in the park have actually decreased. With all the people around, it is harder for drug dealers to operate.
"To be honest, I think yeah, we're actually hurting them. We're kind of ruining their business," said one protester.
"Of course, no one is going to tell me that (they are a drug dealer). But I hear they're mad. I hear that we're ruining their business. That they have to move to another park."
At least four Occupy protestors did say this morning that they've seen people in the park doing drugs. Ali says some of them are the protesters.
"There are no drugs here...I mean there is marijuana they smoke," he said.
Occupy Salt Lake is part of a national movement that started on Wall Street. Participants are protesting corporate greed and its influence on government.