Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Tampa Moved from Curtis Hixon Park

Occupy Tampa moves to Curtis Hixon:

Occupy Tampa has been moved from the sidewalk near Curtis Hixon Park. The Tampa Police Department say that the protesters are getting too comfortable. If you can call sleeping on a sidewalk comfy.

"That's like setting up a camp in a public park," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Part of the problem is that TPD told the protesters to move to Curtis Hixon Park from their original location of Lykes Gaslight Park. The latter park was Occupy Tampa's original location.

Occupy Tampa issued a press release on their web site.

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. 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 occupiers to remove their belongings from the sidewalk. Officers then notified Occupy Tampa that citizens 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, occupiers stayed and were not approached by officers.

On Wednesday, October 12th, a legal consultant, Rugh Cline, received notice from Assistant City Attorney Vaske that the citizens 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 citizens resumed occupation and constant demonstration throughout the night without event.

The following day, Occupy Tampa was 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.

TPD does not want tables or tents placed on the sidewalks. Occupy Tampa complied with the police's original request that there be 4 feet of clearance for pedestrian traffic. This was the original verbal agreement between the protesters and the TPD. On Friday, Capt. Brian Dugan handed out copies of new rules.

Protester Blake Westlake, 27, said he asked police to cite the ordinance the group was breaking. Westlake says police never did and instead replied that they didn't want to get into a debate about constitutional rights.

"I was told that as long as we have 4-foot clearance, we're not obstructing traffic," Westlake said.

Occupy Tampa is asking concerned citizens to call Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office at 813-274-8251.

OccupyTampa">Occupy Tampa Facebook page.

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