Mayor Vincent C. Gray called on the National Park Service on Thursday to remove protesters from McPherson Square to “allow for elimination of the rat infestation, clean up, and restoration” of the downtown park.
In a letter to Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, Gray (D) suggests moving the McPherson demonstrators to a separate encampment at Freedom Plaza.
The letter was accompanied by a memorandum from the city’s health director reporting that both encampments are at risk for outbreaks of “communicable disease, hypothermia or food borne illness.”
Mohammad N. Akhter reported that the city “must now reassess and take steps to protect the health and safety of the demonstrators, as well as District residents and visitors.” The memo followed several dozen visits to the encampments.
The McPherson Square site, Akhter said, “has some serious concerns that should be addressed immediately.” The problems include an ongoing risk of hypothermia, fire threats from the use of candles and propane heaters, inadequate food sanitation and a rodent infestation that is “clearly visible even during daylight hours.”
“Several rodent burrows were noted by staff and rodents were seen inside of camping tents, as well as within the makeshift kitchen tent,” Akhter wrote.
The Occupy movement has entered its fourth month in the District, and it also includes a camp at Freedom Square. There, Akhter noted, there is a “greater attempt being made to adhere to good sanitary practices with waste disposal and food preparation.”
Sam Jewler, a media organizer for the McPherson protesters, said the concerns cited by Akhter are overstated and otherwise manageable. “We haven’t had any hypothermia. We haven’t had any disease problem,” he said. “We’ve complied with everything they’ve asked us to do. There’s no reason that wouldn’t continue to be the case.”
As for the rodents, Jewler said, “We do have rats; most public parks have rats. We hate rats as much as anybody else does. We’d love to work with them on getting the rats out. We don’t think that requires getting the tents out.”
Akhter did not recommend any particular course of action in the memo but told Gray that city agencies are “working together to develop a monitoring and public education plan to reduce the risk of these concerns from developing into a major health crisis.”
In his letter to Jarvis, Gray reiterated his requests for reimbursement for the costs incurred by the protests. A mayoral spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, declined to elaborate on the letter Thursday night.
Bill Line, a Park Service spokesman, said the letter has been received but that he had not read the letter and did not have comment Thursday evening.