Saturday, October 15, 2011

TAMPA POLICE ATTEMPT TO DISMANTLE OCCUY TAMPA’S PROTESTER CAMP

October 14, 2011

Contact: Occupy Tampa General Assembly

Email: sbowden@mail.usf.edu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TAMPA POLICE BROKE DOWN OCCUPY TAMPA PROTESTERS’ CAMP

As many as six squad cars responded on scene in front of Curtis Hixon Park. 

Tampa, FL (October 14, 2011) – Friday morning, at approximately 9:00 a.m. EST, Tampa Police Department vehicles arrived on site in front of Curtis Hixon Park. The officers (of both genders) numbered in the double digits, and their presence led protesters to believe that the officers were prepared to arrest protesters of both genders. Captain Dugan, who was in charge of the scene, informed protesters that they were no longer allowed to place articles (backpacks, coolers, chairs, purses, sleeping bags, etc) in or upon the sidewalk per City Statute 22-8, including a table, which was being used to distribute political literature, in clear violation of the landmark court case, ACLU of Nevada v. City of Las Vegas.  

 Later that Friday, a Tampa Police office approached the Occupy Tampa site in front of Curtis Hixon Park and distributed flyers, which stated that the protesters would be allowed to sleep on the sidewalk, but could not place any articles upon the sidewalk, save for a table for distributing political literature.

This notification directly contradicted verbal permission we received to occupy city sidewalks, with belongings, provided we maintain a 4ft right-of-way for pedestrian traffic (youtube.com/watch?v=yynBEWIqqroxsns=em). This was given to us by a Tampa police officer in the wee hours of Monday morning on October 10th. We immediately taped the sidewalk, demarcating a 6ft right-of-way to ensure compliance with the officer’s directive. 

On Tuesday evening, October 11, 2011, approximately 7 officers arrived at Curtis Hixon Park instructing protesters to remove their belongings from the sidewalk. Officers then notified protesters that they could occupy the sidewalk all night, but would not be allowed to sleep on the sidewalk. A consulting lawyer talked to Lt. Sawiski, who cited city statute 22-8 which references the illegality of placing articles upon the sidewalk. Lt. Sawiski stated that he had been directed by the captain of the police force to enforce the statute. In spite of this, the protesters stayed and were not approached by officers. 

The following day, Wednesday October 12th, a legal consultant, Rugh Cline, received notice from Assistant City Attorney Vaske that the protesters were not in violation of any city ordinance and were allowed to maintain occupation of the city sidewalks, provided they maintain the 4ft right-of-way for pedestrian traffic. The protesters resumed occupation and constant demonstration throughout the night without event.

The following day, Occupy Tampa were not approached by Tampa P.D. until the events of Friday morning.

Mr. Cline has been in contact with city officials, who informed him that the city attorney’s office is drafting legislation to present to the Tampa City Council. The legislation concerns the legality of occupying parks and public spaces, such as sidewalks. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is actively seeking to prevent this legislation in its current form. The proposed changes to the drafted legislation are being submitted to City Council for approval as soon as Monday (17 October 2011). Occupy Tampa is requesting public notice of the date when the Tampa City Council will debate this proposal, so that the public will be provided time to organize and attend the hearing. If Mayor Buckhorn chooses to ratify this legislation, which restricts our First Amendment rights, Occupy Tampa will actively organize and campaign against his re-election. 

Additionally, the Tampa Police Department has made veiled threats regarding Mr. Cline’s legal career, despite Mr. Cline never having agreed to represent Occupy Tampa.

We are presently soliciting local media and press coverage of the Tampa City Council hearing on the aforementioned proposal, in order to shed light on the inconsistencies of the Tampa Police Department. 

We remain law-abiding citizens who wish to exercise our rights to public assembly and free speech. The Tampa City Council is currently attempting to enact legislation, which will threaten these rights for all citizens. 

Occupy Tampa has maintained great respect for the law and Tampa’s police officers, seeking to avoid all unsolicited confrontation thus far. We cannot stand for this threat to our Constitutional right to peacefully assemble. 

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