State announces overnight curfew on Legislative Plaza, aims to evict Occupy protesters

Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 3:53pm
By Steven Hale

Updated 6:45

In response to the Occupy Nashville movement, state officials announced a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Legislative Plaza and the surrounding state grounds. Additionally, a permit will be required for the protesters to remain during the day.

The move by the Department of General Services effectively serves as the first step toward an eviction of Occupy Nashville protesters from Legislative Plaza, which they have occupied since Oct. 8. 

State spokeswoman Lola Potter told The City Paper the permit policy wouldn’t be enforced Thursday. It was unclear whether the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security would enforce the curfew on Thursday evening. 

"We just issued this policy this afternoon, so we don't expect people to abide by it today," Potter said. "We are going to expect folks to get a permit for an event on the plaza tomorrow." 

According to Thursday's statement, “Criminal activity and deteriorating sanitary conditions over the past several days on Legislative Plaza have created an environment that is unsafe for the protesters, state employees and everyone who works, lives and enjoys downtown.

“As a result, the Department of General Services is adding to its policy for permitting use of Legislative Plaza, the War Memorial Building and the Capitol Grounds. Permits will be granted on a daily basis from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.”

Technically, the requirement to have a permit, which costs $65, has always been on the books — state officials just haven't enforced it. While the curfew is new, Thursday's decision effectively serves as an announcement that, now, the state is going to take the policy seriously.

"Before, if anyone held an event without a permit, we didn't do anything," Potter said. "We just held our breath and hoped they didn't leave too much trash."

Potter cited the state's respect for the fact that the plaza is a public place as a reason for the lax enforcement of the policy, but said that starting Friday, officials will be "a little more stern about requiring a permit."

The revised policy mandates “all assemblies and gatherings of persons” on the grounds will require such a permit from General Services and approval of the Tennessee Capitol Commission. The policy also states that “special use” permits, for times outside 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., may be approved on a case-by-case basis. 

Earlier this week Jennifer Donnals, spokeswoman for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said troopers with the Tennessee Highway Patrol were dispatched to the area after reports of public urination and a “sex act” being committed in the area. No arrests were made.

If a forced eviction were to occur — as has happened in cities across the country — the duty of carrying it out would presumably fall to the troopers, who are assigned to Capitol security.

Thursday afternoon, Donnals declined to offer specifics on the THP's plans for enforcing the new policy, should protesters decide to ignore it.

"We will provide security and safety to support General Services' new policy," she said. "Our main priority is to provide security for the protesters as well as the other citizens who use Legislative Plaza."

Members of Occupy Nashville said in a statement Thursday that "there has been a failure by the authorities to respond" to incidents in the plaza.

When asked about security concerns expressed by the protesters, Donnals offered a different view. "We're there to provide security for the protesters as well, and we have been for three weeks,” she said.

In Twitter and Facebook posts Wednesday night, Occupy Nashville members stated that they had “been given 24 hours to disband or be evicted by the police” and urged supporters to contact city and state officials in protest. Thursday afternoon, a petition appeared on the website change.org, urging Gov. Bill Haslam not to call off any plans to remove the demonstrators. As of Thursday afternoon, 374 people had signed the petition.

A final decision as to how protesters plan to respond to the curfew will likely come at the nightly General Assembly meeting, where decisions are made by consensus. However, all indications are that the group will be staying put.

"The First Amendment does not say that free speech is only permitted between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.," said Elli Whiteway, in an email to The City Paper Thursday afternoon. "First Amendment rights do not fall within the boundaries of convenience. In that respect, a curfew doesn't mean much to us. We want to be very respectful and be examples of good citizens, but we are not planning to give up our constitutional rights."

Whiteway added that a group of protesters is looking into other options, which could include a move to a new location, but that no consensus has been reached on how the group as a whole will respond if they are forcibly removed from the plaza.

11 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 10/27/11 at 2:53

There should be a policy of "No sleeping or camping " at any of the
State buildings." No matter the cause-ever.. While 2 dozen or so
may not equate to that of some other cities, it's still a mess and
nuisance to the area. This restriction would have absolutely
nothing to do with denying the right to protest,. Those rights can be
exercised within both restricted hours and locations!

By: cham77 on 10/27/11 at 3:41

The protestors need to contact the American Civil Liberties Union ASAP! Power to the People!

By: JakeNashville on 10/27/11 at 3:57

I ASSUME this applies to all the homeless who literally live around the Plaza as well. If you are going to penalize the law abiding citizens, those who are not part of the lawful movement need to ALSO be made to move EVERYNIGHT at the same time. NO EXCEPTIONS!!!

By: cham77 on 10/27/11 at 4:35

This is the info for the local ACLU:

ACLU of Tennessee
Executive Director: Hedy Weinberg
P.O. Box 120160
Nashville, TN 37212
Phone: (615) 320-7142 | Email: aclutn@aclu-tn.org
Web: http://www.aclu-tn.org

By: T-BONE on 10/28/11 at 5:56

DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC !...MILLIONAIRE POLITICIANS DO NOT REPRESENT THE COMMON PEOPLE! ...When the division of wealth of any country gets this out of whack (as it is in USA) the people REVOLT! ... "Those who DO NOT LEARN from history, are condemned to repeat it".....This is just the begining.

By: american1974 on 10/28/11 at 7:31

If only these idiots knew what to protest about.
The Federal Reserve Act was designed on Jekyll Island by the richest families in America. Created to protect their fortunes(the largest banks from ever failing). Because the FED exists the economy grows artificially and bursts every 30 to 40 years. Banks only need 10% of the loan they give. The banks make interest on 90% of money that does not exists and did not require labor to create.(printed) Every city in America is fake and built on artificial growth. All of this is because of the FED. Comments about greed is absurd. CEO's DO NOT OWN COMPANIES. The American people do via stock. If you own a 401K, you are part of the so called problem you have created in your mind.
REALITY: Companies must compete globally now. The move overseas because they must pay 4%to6% cents on the dollar in social security for every dollar paid to an employee. Social programs forced on companies and people is not freedom nor a free market.
Most of these people seem clueless. The number one problem is
1. The Federal Reserve.
2. The government who has created social programs and regulations that force companies to go overseas where free markets exist.
3. Unions who want to pay someone with a high school education 60k a year to turn a bolt.
Force does not equal freedom or liberty. Everyone is born free and only Government can take freedom away. Every company is started free
and only Government can strangle them with taxes, regulations and social programs that inhibit them to compete. If a company can’t compete with its GLOBAL competition or even national competition, it will move to where it can.
Nobody seems smart enough to look deeper than the surface. With 100 years of inflation, the cost of living has been raised on the poor. GUESS WHAT! Inflation forces companies to pay more per hour in the U.S, which does not allow them to compete either. WAKE UP. It’s the FED. All of these ignorant Communist comments about “the people”, when you don’t mention the real problem is just going to get you scalped. Educate yourself and know the cause of the problems.

By: macjedi on 10/28/11 at 7:44

Big shock that the NEOCON ADMINISTRATION and their puppets throughout the state - all of whom claim to be constitutionally obsessed when it fits within their plots - woudl miss out on this:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO PEACEABLY ASSEMBLE, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It is, after all, their FAVORITE to screw up.

By: frodo on 10/28/11 at 8:50

I heard an Occupy protester on the radio call the area they occupy "free space." I thought all the free space was depleted when homesteading ended. But, no, apparently we have all this free space up for grabs. I want some free space, too. Maybe we should all own some free space together. Oh, but then we'd have to make a few simple rules so it is responsibly used, and so no one leaves a mess, etc. Oh, wait, I think that is what we have here on legislative plaza...a space we all own together and which from time to time needs basic rules to maintain order.

I didn't hear Cham77 breathless about calling the ACLU on behalf of the Tea Party when they did the good citizen thing and got a permit and insurance for their gathering. And I didn't see romanticized and happy photos of the Tea Party gathering on the front page of the Tennessean. That, my dear macjedi, is the double standard in this town.

By: ACitizen on 10/28/11 at 12:55

A Citizen
"Technically, the requirement to have a permit, which costs $65, has always been on the books — state officials just haven't enforced it. "

Selective enforcement does not negate "THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO PEACEABLY ASSEMBLE"

The permit should be free!

By: frodo on 10/28/11 at 1:38

A Citizen, are you going to reimburse the Tea Party for playing by the rules? Selective enforcement is the tool of tyranny.

By: smiless on 11/9/11 at 12:36

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