Jackson council likely to grant Occupiers 24/7 Smith Park permission

November 8, 2011

Legal Affairs, Politics

Occupy Jackson protesters may find the majority of Jackson City Council members receptive to giving them special permission to remain in Smith Park around the clock, thus ending the nightly migrations to the sidewalk on the west side of Congress Street.

The Occupy Jackson group, entering its second month in the park, had planned to stay in the park overnight last Saturday and risk arrest for violating a policy that forbids visitors in city parks from dusk to dawn. Instead, the Occupiers decided they would stay in the park but leave if police told them to.

They plan to march from Smith Park to City Hall for the council’s 6 p.m. meeting on Nov. 15. There, they will ask for permission to stay in the park 24 hours a day. If not granted, they would stay overnight and risk arrest.

They may not have to, however. Councilman Tony Yarber said he believes a majority of the council sees the protests as a “social justice” cause and would be receptive to granting permission to remain in the park.

Chris Mims, spokesman for Mayor Harvey Johnson, said he has not discussed the matter with Johnson but expects the mayor would go along with whatever the council decides.

Yarber said a special exception to the hours rule would be best, thus protecting a rule set by the city’s permit division as a way to protect the city from liabilities for injuries that may occur in the park at night.

“We need to set down and outline their specific expectations and set conditions,” he said.

Yarber, an educator, motivational speaker and business coach, said he admires the Occupy stand and would likely be “involved at some level” if he were not a public official.

The protesters in Jackson and in parks across the nation have cited a host of reasons for their movement but call themselves the “99%” that have been shorted by the nation’s financial system and economic policies. Income inequality is a grievance frequently heard from the protesters.

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