For months, the National Park Service and D.C. police have allowed Occupiers to break a no-camping law — but, last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took a peek into the case with a hearing and that seems to have forced the NPS to at least pretend to uphold the law.
At the hearing, NPS officials made a few feeble excuses for their poor enforcement of the law up to this point, trying lamely to make the case that camping in a public place is protected speech. (Supreme Court precedent says otherwise.) Ultimately, though, they also pledged to begin to enforce the law soon.
The NPS then issued a deadline to the Occupy protesters: They had until noon today to remove their camping gear from the two public parks. Not surprisingly, the Occupiers paid no attention to the order. They’re still camped out in McPherson Park and Freedom Plaza — and, what’s more, they vow they’ll continue to stay there as though no order was issued at all.
Defiant Occupy protestors here vowed to maintain their vigil on Monday despite an order from the National Park Service that campers must remove their gear or depart from two federal parks.
As the agency’s noon deadline neared, chanting protestors unfurled an enormous blue tarp emblazoned with “Tent of Dreams” over the center of McPherson Square, one of the two parks. The protestors then dragged the tarp over the statue of James B. McPherson, the Civil War general for whom the park is named, and the statue’s head and shoulders poked through the top of the tarp.
“What they’re doing with this enforcement is a joke,” said Christopher Seerden, 30, of Santa Cruz, Calif., standing next to a tent that he had been wearing like a garment. “People need to have a place to stay.”
That leaves the NPS in a pickle; they said at the Oversight hearing that they would not evict the Occupiers “except in emergency circumstances.” Not sure how filthy the parks will have to become to constitute a health emergency — but you’d think the rat infestation in McPherson Park just might. At any rate, this just underscores the point I made when I first heard the NPS’ plan to enforce the law but not evict the protesters: It’s very hard to enforce the law … without enforcing the law.