Defund police demonstrators arrested after refusing to leave Hamilton city hall
'We're just going to come back until the mayor and the city take housing seriously'
Demonstrators calling for police to be defunded were arrested and escorted out of Hamilton City Hall by police Wednesday night after they refused to leave, calling for the mayor to commit to meeting with them publicly to address their concerns.
Police say eighteen people were charged with failing to leave a premises when directed — a $65 fine — then released.
Author and activist Desmond Cole was among the first people to be taken out, walking through the city hall parking lot with his fist in the air, surrounded by three officers.
He said he was told he was trespassing and "physically escorted, physically pushed out of the building by police."
Cole, who said he came out to support the demonstrators, estimated he had been inside for more than two hours before being walked out.
Demonstrators sat in city hall throughout the afternoon and into the evening, live-streaming video of their requests to meet with Mayor Fred Eisenberger.
Shortly after the demonstrators were escorted out around 8:30 p.m., the city issued a press release stating the mayor and City Manager Janette Smith offered to meet with representatives of the group at city hall in order to ensure proper physical distancing could be followed.
"The demonstrators rejected the offer to meet indicating it was 'all of them or none of them' a scenario that is not possible as it would violate public health orders," it read.
In a tweet Thursday afternoon, the demonstrators challenged the city's statement, saying the group wanted the mayor to speak with two of its members publicly, outside, rather than in a private meeting inside the building.
On Wednesday night, Cole said no one person represents the group and that demonstrators are demanding a public meeting so city officials will be held accountable.
"There's nothing Fred Eisenberger or the city council can negotiate with private individuals," he said. "If they want to make policy that policy is going to be public and it's going to affect everyone in the city. That's the reason why there's no agreement to a private meeting."
Outside city hall, supporters chanted and shouted "shame" at officers posted at the building's back doors.
The city's release went on to outline investments the city has made toward affordable housing in recent years, saying there is currently room for any homeless person who needs a place to stay and if more spaces are needed they will be created.
"Over the past six years we have received, allocated and invested over $716 million in funding towards reducing the impact of poverty in Hamilton through investment in safe, affordable housing," read a quote from Eisenberger.
"While there is no question that we still require additional funding support from provincial and federal partners to continue to address our affordable housing pressures, we share concerns for our homeless population and will continue our work to provide good quality and stable housing to those who need it most."
The defund police demonstrators initially set up tents outside city hall, camping in the forecourt for more than a week.
The group is demanding that the Hamilton police budget be cut by 50 per cent.
They're also calling for a police budget increase to be denied, and that the amount police are asking, as well as any surplus in the police budget, be used for free housing.
Two days ago, a group placed a coffin with naloxone kits sitting on a bed of flowers outside Eisenberger's home, an action he described as "unacceptable." Police are investigating.
Sarah Jama, one of the organizers of a protest, was the last person to be escorted out on Wednesday night.
"This isn't over," she said. "We're just going to come back until the mayor and the city take housing seriously."