Occupy Jackson protesters say they will make a stand Saturday night (Nov. 5) and invite arrest for refusing to leave downtown Jackson’s Smith Park at dusk.
The band of demonstrators which has fluctuated in number from fewer than five at times up to a few dozen at other times has been leaving the park at dark and camping on the sidewalk on the west side of Congress Street. They do so under a city rule that prohibits visitors in the park from dusk to dawn. They say they plan to break the rule Saturday night, not having received a response from the city for permission to remain in the park after dark.
The city’s permit division has given the protestors permission to continue assembling in the park in daylight hours through Nov. 10. It’s unclear whether that permission would be extended beyond Nov. 10.
Police Officer Harry Brown, the member of the city’s permit committee whose district takes in the downtown park, indicated Thursday he thinks the protestors have been discouraging other individuals and groups from using the park.
“Numerous organizations and individuals submit requests to use Smith Park throughout the year. In order to give others a fair opportunity to hold their events in the park, the city finds it necessary to limit the period in which any one organization may reserve use of the facility,” Brown wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to Occupy leaders. “Accordingly, the City is restricting use of the Smith Park for your event to the following dates: Oct. 26, 2001, to Nov. 10, 2011.”
Brown said Occupy Jackson can submit a new application for subsequent dates.
The permit is a requirement for any group of more than 25 people that gathers on city property. Occupy Jackson, which incorporated as a non-profit Oct. 26, said it has refused to accept the special permit issued by the city because it believes the permit is not required under its First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
Chris Mims, a spokesman for Mayor Harvey Johnson, said the issue is out of the hands of the mayor and City Council. Use of the park is determined by objective criteria and decisions on its use are up to the permits division, including any decisions on whether the protesters can use the park after dark, he said.
Officer Brown said he is “not so sure” Mims is correct. Any exception to the rules must come from the City’s elected leaders, he said.
Asked whether police would arrest anyone in the park after dark Saturday, Brown would say only that city ordinances prohibit use of the park from dusk to dawn, the protestors. Each repeated the response each time the question came up in an interview.
“All parks close at dusk,” he said, and noted the restrictions are designed to prevent someone form getting hurt in city parks and holding the City responsible.
The demonstrators have been in the park since early October, arriving shortly after the launch of Occupy Wall Street protests. Protests have been staged continuously in other cities as well.
Though the grievances of individual protestors vary, most cite income inequality they say has been growing and abetted by government policies for many years. They call themselves “The 99%” and say too much wealth has been concentrated in the hands of the nation’s richest 1 percent.
Some in the Occupy Jackson group say they may take their around-the-clock protests to the grounds of the state Capitol in the next few days.