BOSTON — Occupy Boston protesters must leave their encampment in the city’s financial district by midnight Thursday or face eviction by police, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said.
The mayor’s order came one day after a judge refused to issue a court order that would have barred city officials from removing the protesters.
“We’re asking them to adhere to the court order. It’s up to the occupiers in Dewey Square. There’s a public safety issue,” Menino said. “They asked for the order. The judge came down with an order and we’re asking them to adhere to that.”
Asked what would happen if they didn’t leave by midnight, Menino said, “We’ll take that issue as we move forward.”
Earlier Thursday, Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Menino said that if protesters declined to leave “police would do what is necessary and appropriate after midnight tonight.”
Until now, Menino has said the city had no plans to forcibly remove the encampment, but he has become increasingly impatient with the protesters in recent days, saying the Dewey Square occupation has become a public health and safety hazard.
The threat of forcible removal leaves Boston poised to join several other cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, where officials moved to oust protesters.
John Ford, a member of the encampment, said protesters are planning to meet in a general assembly to plan their next move. Ford said Menino had been deliberately vague about any plans to remove the protesters throughout the court proceedings.
“I think that the mayor used silence as a tactic to win the court case. He never said anything and during radio interviews he said ‘I’m not saying they have to go, I’m just saying that we want the ability to ask them to go,”’ said Ford, a 30-year-old bookstore owner from Plymouth. “Now they want to flip us immediately.”
Some Occupy Boston members indicated they would not leave voluntarily.
“If it comes down to it, I will be spending the night in jail,” said a protester who identified himself as Mike Smith, 23, of Boston. Smith added that he was not surprised by the order.
“They have been trying to get rid of us from day one,” he said.
The protesters have been encamped in Dewey Square since Sept. 30, modeling their demonstration after Occupy Wall Street. Protesters estimate between 100 and 150 activists live in the Boston encampment.
Jeffrey Feuer, a Cambridge lawyer representing Occupy Boston, said earlier Thursday that he planned to file a motion with Suffolk Superior Court Judge Frances McIntyre asking for a stay of her Wednesday ruling to allow time for an appeal.
McIntyre ruled that although the protesters are exercising their rights to freedom of expression from government interference, the occupation of state land is essentially viewed “as a hostile act” that is neither speech “nor is it immune from criminal prosecution for trespass or other crimes.”
“This decision clears the way, but does not order the plaintiffs and other protesters to vacate the site and request permission to set up tents or other equipment for expressive purposes” if Occupy Boston protesters wish to continue to stay at the encampment located on land owned by the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, McIntyre said. “Overnight sleeping and living at Dewey Square ar e not options under the Conservancy guidelines, however.”
At a Dec. 1 hearing, Boston’s fire marshal testified that the tent city has numerous serious fire hazards and he feared for the protesters’ safety.
McIntyre, in her ruling Wednesday, recognized the central theme of the movement, saying it had brought attention to a perceived increasing disparity of wealth and power in the country.
Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg and Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.