By the time I got up on Sunday morning, CNN was already blaring the news about a showdown between police and “occupy” protesters in Portland, Oregon. Authorities had given an order for everyone to clear out by midnight because of increasing issues with refuse, disease, violence and disruption of normal activities.
Anti-Wall Street protesters and their supporters flooded a city park area in Portland early Sunday in defiance of an eviction order, and authorities elsewhere stepped up pressure against the demonstrators, arresting nearly two dozen.
Crowds converged on two adjacent downtown Portland parks where protesters are camped after city officials set a midnight Saturday deadline to disperse.
But hours later, the protesters were still there, backed by many supporters who spilled out into the streets next to camp, tying up traffic.
At that point, at least one police officer had been injured – thankfully it was minor – and other had been struck by a thrown object. The ranks of the occupiers were apparently swelled by local residents who came out and began rubbernecking to see if there would be some sort of showdown. (Side note to citizens: Not helpful. Mmmmkay? Let the cops do their jobs, please.)
The description of the standoff got me to wondering about something. In a number of these areas, the authorities have been far more lenient than needed – in some cases ignoring local laws regarding permits, camping restrictions, etc. to give the occupiers the benefit of the doubt in terms of their first amendment rights. How do they turn around now and toss them out having turned a blind eye previously?
I was reminded that it’s really not that tough of a call when I read this piece by Doug Mataconis. Camping Out in a Park is not a First Amendment Right.
In short, while the Courts have upheld the right of groups to march and protest and generally always struck down laws or decisions by government entities that attempted to regulate an assembly based on the content of what was being said or advocated (See e.g., National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie), they have also upheld the right of government entities to impose reasonable time, place, and manner regulations on speech as long as it was applied in a content neutral manner. In fact, the Supreme Court dealt with a protest similar to the Occupy movement back in 1981 and issued a ruling that seems to clearly decide this issue.
So how will this play out in Portland? We should know soon enough. You can find some regularly updated news on the subject right here, so bookmark it. It seems that the police have begun dismantling the camp and the occupiers are none too pleased.
“The park is closed officially,” one officer told a passerby. He said officers are using discretion in letting people come and go.
Portland parks bureau workers are hauling away mountains of debris. And some police officers are tearing down tarps and removing any stray items laying around that could be used as weapons.
Many protesters, who spent the night staring down police and celebrating the return to the squares are drinking coffee and relaxing on park benches.
Some officers have entered an area covered by blue tarps and told the occupants the park was closed and they will have to move on.
Lownsdale Square is largely deserted. People are taking down tents and folding tarps. There are still mounds of refuse: pillows, sleeping bags, garbing bags, shopping carts, clothing, detritus of all kinds.
Keep checking back for updates, but apparently many of the protesters have backed down. Others refuse to move and the police are “looking for an opportune time” to move in and explain to them once and for all that the park is closed for the time being. Portland, perhaps even more so than Oakland, may wind up being the test case in terms of how effective municipalities will be clearing people out who are in violation of the law and returning some sense of order – not to mention hygiene – to the community.
Update: Looks like “the fever broke” in Portland and the occupiers are going back to occupying their mothers’ basements.
Occupy Portland encampments were nearly empty on Sunday as protesters packed up and left after warnings by city officials that they would be evicted over the weekend.
Fewer than a dozen tents remained at two downtown parks where protesters have camped since early October as part of the nationwide Occupy Wall street movement against alleged economic injustice.
City officials said they planned to put up fences around the two Portland parks to close them to protesters on Sunday afternoon…
The mood at the parks on Sunday was “peaceful and respectful” after some raucous marching overnight, said City Council member Nick Fish.
“It’s almost like the fever broke last night,” he said.
Say, that fever didn’t happened to be caused by an infestation of …. never mind.
UPDATE 2: Peaceful protester in San Francisco slashes police officer with razor.