Updated at 12:45 a.m. Saturday: Police moved into the Occupy St. Louis protest at Kiener Plaza about 12:30 a.m. and took about 20 protesters into custody.
The arrests came about 15 minutes after officers warned protesters that anyone who refused to leave the downtown plaza would be arrested.
The crowd of Occupy St. Louis protesters had shrunk to about 100. Of them, about 25 indicated they were willing to be taken into custody.
"None of us are choosing to be arrested," said Brian Staack, one of the protesters, just before he was taken into custody. "We are choosing to maintain our occupation and our right to peaceably assemble."
There was shouting from the protesters as the arrests were made, but no signs of violence. Streets near the plaza were closed before the arrests were made.
ST. LOUIS • A swelling crowd of Occupy St. Louis protesters in Kiener Plaza late Friday prepared for a forced removal by police, the expected culmination of city officials’ vow to enforce the park’s overnight curfew.
As a handful of protesters girded for a confrontation, others lined the perimeter of the downtown plaza, chanting, singing and strumming guitars as several St. Louis police bicycle officers watched.
At about midnight, the protesters were told that a federal judge had turned down a bid for a restraining order to let them stay at the plaza.
After the 10 p.m. city parks curfew had passed, police warned demonstrators that they might not be given any advance warning when officers closed in, and as many as 30 protesters prepared to be arrested. Others packed up tents.
"We are occupying a public space!" many in the crowd of about 200 protesters chanted. "Hell no, we won’t go!"
Across the street from the park, curious onlookers watched and some demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk, the safe zone from arrest.
City staff members on Thursday told the protesters that they had until 3 p.m. Friday to remove their tents and comply with city law. That deadline passed without any action.
There was false cause for celebration among protesters about 2:30 p.m., when Mayor Francis Slay tweeted a statement that many read as conceding to their desire to protest around the clock.
His staff later clarified that it was only a reiteration of the city’s stance all week — that protesters can stay in Kiener Plaza, but only in accordance with city laws. That means tents need to go and protesters cannot stay beyond 10 p.m.
Occupy St. Louis is a small off-shoot of Occupy Wall Street, the gathering in New York that has inspired protests in dozens of U.S. cities.
Just days after the movement started here Oct. 1, police arrested 10 protesters for curfew violations. But the city appeared to soften its stance in the weeks after, with Slay even saying that he respected the group’s message.
Earlier Friday, the protesters at Kiener were bracing for the park curfew time, discussing what they would do if the parks department or police move in.
"Whether Slay decides to sic the dogs on us or not, we’re here!" said Ben Troxell, taking his turn speaking at the front of the group. "Maybe the police are moving in on us, maybe they’re not, but the threat is there."
Steven Hoffman, taking his turn to speak, said he felt the city was using the curfew ordinance as an excuse to get rid of the protesters, and that it picks and chooses what it decides to enforce.
"If they’re not going to enforce every ordinance, then they shouldn’t enforce any ordinance," he said.
"I’m looking forward to civil disobedience!" he yelled, to cheers.
Earlier in the week, Slay said on his blog that he was in favor of designating a spot downtown for 24-hour protests. The tract, in the Gateway Mall across Market Street from the post office, would be called “Freedom Square.”
If his proposal is backed by the Board of Aldermen, Slay said, “the space would become available 24/7 as a place of assembly and speech, but not as a tent encampment or place on which temporary structures may be erected.”