"Our response to the mayor is, 'Hey, we're here to stay'," one Occupy DC protester said.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray wants protesters who’ve been living in a tent city at McPherson Square to be removed, citing public health concerns.
With a letter to the National Park Service, Gray included a report by the D.C. Department of Health in which DOH Director Dr. Mohammed Akhter found conditions at McPherson Square are a public health threat as well as a threat to the protesters living there.
The DOH report, which also covered the Freedom Plaza campsite, found dangerous rat infestation and potential for communicable diseases, hypothermia and food-borne illness. The health and safety issues come from improper disposal and containment of trash and human waste, which has contributed to the increase in the population of rodents, which were observed inside tents and in the food preparation area, according to the report.
“At a minimum, the Occupy DC sites at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza must be consolidated at Freedom Plaza to allow for elimination of the rat infestation, clean up, and restoration of McPherson Square,” Gray wrote.
He also asked for regular safety and compliance checks at Freedom Plaza.
“Mayor Gray’s description of the conditions at the McPherson Square Occupy DC encampment is a blunt assessment of the situation created by the National Park Service’s decision to ignore laws designed to protect the public,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement released Thursday. “The public health and safety situation is in itself disturbing and the refusal to provide documents about the Park Service’s decision making leaves a lingering perception that long-standing prohibitions against encampments have been ignored to avoid a politically embarrassing situation for the Administration.
“The city is trying its best to protect the health, welfare, and safety of people in and around the campsite,” Issa continued. “In this situation, the National Park Service has so far been more interested in making excuses than protecting the public.”
Gray opened and closed the letter with references to an unanswered Dec. 16 letter in which he asked that the District be compensated for expenses related to ensuring “a safe and peaceful protest by the two Occupy DC groups.”