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10 arrested outside Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 11:01 a.m. CST

(MCT) — Chicago police dismantled tents and arrested 10 people camped out on a vacant lot outside the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic to protest the shuttering of city clinics.

Those arrested late Monday night said they were members of the Mental Health Movement, which has emulated the nationwide "Occupy" protests and has set up a tent city across from the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic at 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave.

As demonstrators chanted "Shame on Rahm," officers used plastic flex cuffs to bind their wrists before loading them into a squadrol parked in front of the clinic.

The Mental Health Movement, a coalition of community organizations, has accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of refusing to listen to patients, health care workers and advocates fighting to save public mental health services in Chicago.

The outpatient clinic is one of six the city is closing as part of a plan to consolidate the work of 12 city-run facilities into six and build more active partnerships with private mental health organizations, city officials said. The Woodlawn clinic is scheduled to close April 30.

Nearly two weeks ago, 23 people were arrestedfor barricading themselves inside the outpatient clinic.

"I'm willing to go to jail and stay some days if I have to," Woodlawn patient Horace Howard said shortly before he was arrested.

Howard, who suffers from bipolar disorder, chanted loudly during the protest as he stood with the help of a walker. He said clinics like Woodlawn provide services to the unemployed, working-class families and the under-insured.

"The people in this community, in all communities, need public health service," he said. "Those who may have just lost their jobs. . .those who might be working part time. . .those who may be working full time and don't have health insurance. This is the place they can come and receive service."

Demonstrators chatted around a bonfire in a barbecue grill until a line of police vehicles pulled up about 10:30 p.m. A commanding officer ordered the group to disperse, saying it was city-owned land and they would be arrested for trespassing.

One demonstrator hoisted up a sign that read, "Health care is a human right." Three held up a bigger sign that stated: "Stop closing clinics now! We need our mental health infrastructure."

They yelled out in unison, "Health care is a human right! We won't go without a fight!"

Shortly after an 11 p.m. deadline, about 20 officers arrested the demonstrators one-by-one.

After the last arrest, officers quickly dismantled and cleared the tent city and remained on the lot until firefighters from Engine 63 arrived to extinguish the flames in the barbecue grill. The protesters cheered on the firefighters as they rode away.

Woodlawn patients will be transferred either to another city-run center or a private mental health clinic within a four-mile radius of their current facility, the mayor's office has  said.

Organizers vowed to stay on site until a morning news conference. They said they hoped those arrested would be released in time to discuss their arrests.

Tribune reporters William Lee and Jeremy Gorner contributed.

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