Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Colorado Springs hits legal wall

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 2:34 PM


As is being widely reported locally, the people protesting in Acacia Park — in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement — have hit a legal wall: a camping ordinance passed by City Council last year, when a tent city of homeless were calling the banks of Fountain Creek home.

Here's a report from our partners at KRDO:

Occupy Colorado Springs protesters continue to defy police and say they're prepared to go to jail. Some protesters have been sleeping on the streets since Friday, despite the city's ban on camping. ...

"This is permanent," said organizer Jason Warf, of the protest near Acacia Park. "Obviously, we're going to go down a messy road now, because we could have worked with them and this could have been an amicable thing, but they weren't willing to do that."

The group actually posted a 35-minute video of their meeting with the Colorado Springs Police Department, and a viewing shows that Warf's right — the group could have worked with the department, but clearly chose not to.

In the video several members of OCS meet with a variety of Springs PD, including Sgt. Steve Noblitt (the only individual I recognized, personally). The police present their case: there's a city ordinance, as well as park hours, that are enforceable; whether you're homeless, or "occupying," or just like to hang out in a city park after 11 p.m. in a tent.

Then OCS presents its case: The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees their right to remain on park property after hours, potentially sleeping in pop-up tents along the way, as long as it's in protest of an issue.

Now, this post comes off as a little dismissive, because it's hard to take the group seriously when they've decided they know the law — repeatedly referencing their own in-depth knowledge of the Constitution — and aren't interested in the reality of the situation: police are going to ticket, then potentially arrest, anybody breaking a city ordinance.

And it's not because CSPD is trying to limit OCS' rights of free speech. (Rights I'm not sure they even understand, considering one member of the group construed not letting local media into the meeting as limiting the freedom of the press.) The group doesn't even have to base itself out of Acacia Park, let alone act as deliberately obtuse as they come off.

A scan of its Facebook page shows a variety of views on the meeting's outcome.

"I'm sorry but I thought the police were trying their best to work with us," writes Chantal Legendre. "They were trying to get things settled. They said that 'You can be there, but 11-5am you have to be on the sidewalks, walking around. ' I don't believe they were being difficult at all. They were following what they were told and the occupy has to be decided in the court."

"Police are the enemy," rebuts Robert Trujillo. "Watch the video. Three out of the four police officers in that room had made their minds up and seemed dead set on arresting anyone that they could. This is, I believe, a part of the movement. Read the paper, they make themselves to be the enemy. You're just no[t] being honest CSPD are hostile egomaniacs."

I'm not overly enamored of law enforcement, or of following the law in general, at times. And I'm all for "afflict[ing] the powerful and comfort[ing] the powerless," as Glenn Greenwald puts the media's job. But it's hard to give credence to a movement — much like the medical marijuana movement (which is unsurprising considering how much the two worlds are currently intersecting) — that wants to do something, and has decided it's legal to do so solely because it wants to.

Ultimately, how it will end is anybody's guess, but a message from OCS' Twitter feed may offer a clue: "We are in talks with City Council to come to a resolution!"

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