Cities Doing It Right: Respecting Protesters’ Rights to Speech and Assembly

Many Peace Officers and Politicians Are Working to Uphold the Constitutional Rights of the American People

Given all of the police brutality in Oakland, Denver and New York City (here, here, here, here, here, here and here), it is important to give credit to the cities which are respecting the protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly.

As Occupy Orange County reported Wednesday:

Late last night after a 5 and-a-half hour marathon city council meeting [in Irvine, Orange County, in Southern California], in which 72 speakers took the floor to express the need for the Occupy OC Tent Village to be accepted as a form of free speech, the city council passed an emergency motion to add the needs of “The 99%” to their official agenda. This was a feat which, according to one more conservative Councilman, he had never seen in 7 years of service.

The council members each spoke in turn to the civility, articulateness and peaceful process represented by the Irvine Occupation , at contrast with the several other Occupational Villages in California, which were, at that very moment being tear-gassed. The general sentiment of the officials being: “This is quite clearly the model. And the occupation most in tune with city needs.”

One councilman stated clearly, “I disagree with most of what you’re
saying. But you’ve clearly shown that this is an issue of free speech. So
if you need to sleep on our lawn,… by all means,… sleep on our lawn.”

Shortly after, a motion was brought to the council to grant license to the occupiers to occupy the public space overnight citing the unusual form of the movement. (Another first in council history.)

It was then passed unanimously to the sound of thunderous applause.

Shortly thereafter, the City Council was invited to attend the General Assembly of the People. (Which takes place each night in the Occupation Village at 7:00 PM.)

On a personal note,… I myself was stopped by the Mayor on my way up the hall, when he said, “You know what concerns me?” “What’s that”, I asked. Expecting him to cite a civil code. “Do you have enough blankets? Or should I get you some?” He asked.

And while they might not be as respectful of the Constitution (even when they disagree with the protesters’ beliefs) as Irvine, other cities have at least handled the protests better than the cities who have sent in the riot police.

For example, AP notes, in a story entitled “Occupy Wall Street: Many Cities Leaving Protesters Alone“:

While more U.S. cities are resorting to force to break up the Wall Street protests, many others – Philadelphia, New York, Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., among them – are content to let the demonstrations go on for now.

***

Officials are watching the encampments for health and safety problems but say that protesters exercising their rights to free speech and assembly will be allowed to stay as long as they are peaceful and law-abiding.

“We’re accommodating a free speech event as part of normal business and we’re going to continue to enforce city rules,” said Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the mayor of Seattle, where about 40 protesters are camping at City Hall. “They have the right to peacefully assemble. Ultimately what the mayor is doing is strike a balance.”

Authorities have similarly taken a largely hands-off approach in Portland, Ore., where about 300 demonstrators are occupying two parks downtown; Memphis, Tenn., where the number of protesters near City Hall has ranged from about a dozen to about 100; and in Salt Lake City, where activists actually held a vigil outside police headquarters this week to thank the department for not using force against them.

In the nation’s capital, U.S. Park Police distributed fliers this week at two encampments totaling more than 150 tents near the White House. And while the fliers listed the park service regulations that protesters were violating, including a ban on camping, a park police spokesman said the notices should not be considered warnings.

In Providence, R.I., Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said the protesters will not be forcibly removed even after the Sunday afternoon deadline he set for them. He said he intends to seek their ouster by way of court action, something that could take several weeks.

When you see police having to quell disturbances with tear gas or other means, it’s not what the police want and it’s not what we want to see in our society,” Pare said.

***

In Minneapolis, where dozens have been sleeping overnight on a government plaza between a county building and City Hall, the three-week-old occupation has been far tamer than those in other cities, with only a few arrests.

Sheriff Rich Stanek has made it a practice to meet with protesters daily to talk about their issues and the day ahead, and he has refused to engage what he called “the 1 percent” who want to cause trouble.

“We decided that’s not the tactic we want to take. Doing that sometimes requires biting your tongue,” he said. He added: “Some people have said that’s `Minnesota nice.’ It’s a balance.”

Our heartfelt gratitude to the peace officers and politicians working to uphold the Constitutional rights of the American people to free speech and free assembly.

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  • Yeah I need blankets and you know what else?

    –Make me some tea, @#$%#!

 

 

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