Occupy D.C. protesters warned: Stop camping or risk arrest
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Federal authorities, under pressure to crack down on the 4-month-old Occupy D.C. encampments, warned protesters Friday that they must stop camping in two parks near the White House or risk arrest. Authorities distributed fliers advising protesters that the U.S. Park Police on Monday will begin enforcing a ban on camping in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza.
‘If camping violations are observed, individual violators may be subject to arrest and their property subject to seizure as evidence,’ the fliers warned. ‘Any temporary structure used for camping also will be subject to seizure as an abatement of a public nuisance.’
The warning comes days after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, lashed out at National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis for ‘turning a blind eye’’ to lawbreaking in McPherson Square.
Washington officials have complained about rat infestation at the McPherson Square encampment as well as more than $1.6-million cost to the city from the Occupy D.C. protest. D.C. Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Barbara Lang wrote this week on her blog that the protest has become ‘a burden on our city’s economy,’ hurting businesses and residents who are ‘all a part of the 99 percent.’
A crackdown on camping won’t necessarily end the protest or even lead to removal of all the tents.
Park Service officials have said the protesters have a 1st Amendment right to stage a 24-hour vigil in the parks. Jarvis told a House hearing earlier this week that although camping is prohibited, ‘temporary structures, including tents, are permissible as part of a demonstration.’ Authorities will have to figure out which tents are being used for sleeping, possibly by the presence of bedding.
The Park Service ‘has a long and proud tradition of providing opportunities for the exercise of First Amendment rights, but it also is obligated to protect our important cultural and natural resources,’ say the fliers distributed to protesters.
Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the enforcement action has been in the ‘planning process for some time as part of our measured and progressive approach’ for enforcing the camping ban while protecting 1st Amendment-protected activities.
-- Richard Simon in Washington