The grass is thick and green at McPherson Square, yet for months fences have remained in place for “restoration.” Could it be that the Park Service doesn’t want anyone “occupying” the park?
“Good fences make good neighbors” is a wrong-headed philosophy for a park. Public spaces are for the people to use and enjoy.
Last year when McPherson was covered with tents, plenty of people complained that Occupy prevented them from using the park for their own enjoyment. That the grass was ruined at taxpayer expense was frequently hurled at protestors. This year they can’t use it for a different reason–pre-emptive abridgement of free speech.
The grass is back. Freedom to exercise our rights without fear is not.
Just like pornography, you know it when you see it: it’s just wrong. Last fall, a campus cop lackadaisically pepper-sprayed a cluster of seated U.C. Berkeley student protestors, just as if he were applying weedkiller. His pig-like face was completely unaffected by their screams of pain.
Now a court decision punishes U.C. Davis with a $1 million settlement for their police using excessive force and violating the students’ First Amendment rights. From the ACLU:
Today attorneys for 21 UC Davis students and recent alumni announced the details of their settlement of the federal class-action lawsuit against UC Davis over the shocking incident in which campus police repeatedly doused seated, non-violent student demonstrators with military grade pepper spray at close range. The lawsuit charged that the police violated state and federal constitutional protections, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, when they arrested and used excessive force against these non-violent demonstrators. The UC Regents approved the settlement in a September 13 meeting, and the settlement documents were filed with the court today. A federal court judge must approve the settlement before it is finalized.
The University’s response to seated student, non-violent protesters has been widely deemed unacceptable. A task force that the University created to investigate and analyze the response to the protestors concluded in an extensive report that “The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented,” and found culpability at all levels of the University administration and police force.
Let’s hope the unintended effect isn’t to punish California students indirectly with tuition hikes. Here are the specifics:
Terms of the Settlement
The settlement was filed today with the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, for review by a federal judge before it becomes final. The terms of the settlement include:
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi will issue a formal written apology to each of the students and recent alumni who was pepper sprayed or arrested.
The University will pay $1 million as part of the settlement. This includes a total of $730,000 to the named plaintiffs and others who were arrested or pepper-sprayed on November 18. It will also include up to $250,000 in costs and attorney fees.
The University will work with the ACLU as it develops new policies on student demonstrations, crowd management, and use of force to prevent anything like the November 18 pepper spray incident from ever happening again. $20,000 of the settlement will go to the ACLU for its future work with the University on these policies to protect free speech and free expression on campus.
The case has been expanded to a class action lawsuit to make sure that anyone who was pepper-sprayed or arrested that day can be part of the settlement, even if they are not a named plaintiff. $100,000 of the total award will be set aside to compensate other individuals who were pepper-sprayed or wrongfully arrested on November 18, 2011.
The University will also assist students whose academic performance was adversely affected by the incident in applying for academic records adjustment.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it’s that you should be able to demonstrate without being afraid of police violence,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “What happened on November 18 was among the worst examples of police violence against student demonstrators that we’ve seen in a generation.”
In that decision the judge wrote, “the First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not allow the city to prevent an orderly political protest from using public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression.”
The director of the National Park Service said Tuesday at a Congressional Oversight hearing that U.S. Park Police will “very soon” begin enforcing no-camping policy at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza. At the same time he emphasized their First Amendment rights to conduct protest vigils on federal land.
Although the Park Service this week has sought to clarify the meaning of enforcement of no-camping rules, the ramifications for Occupy DC are still uncertain.
Director Jarvis made it clear that he would not order wholesale eviction of Occupy DC at either site short of an emergency situation. But the Park Service’s position has evolved over the week–or at least the clarification of it–and the current form of Occupy DC seems even more threatened.
Sleeping in the park is now a no-no. Go to sleep in your tent and you risk a Park Police officer giving you a citation. The Park Service spokesman encouraged the protesters to sleep elsewhere. Given the number of homeless occupying the parks, this could pose a problem.
On Friday, the National Park Service posted notices at both Freedom Plaza and McPherson Park warning that it would begin enforcing no-camping rules beginning at noon on Monday, January 30.
To comply with the no-camping rules, protesters must remove all evidence of camping, including bedding, storage containers and anything used to make a fire, the Park Service said. If the protesters don’t comply, they may be arrested and their property seized.
The notice itself states:
While temporary structures or tents are allowed in the park under some circumstances, camping is not permitted…To allow for visual inspection and monitoring, all temporary structures and tents must have at least one open side.
But some Occupiers see no-camping enforcement as just a different method of eviction.
So the question is, will the Park Police enter McPherson Park and Freedom Plaza on Monday with the order to seize sleeping bags and personal belongings? And if so, what will the response by Occupiers be? Given how passionate the inhabitants of Occupy DC are about defending their community, their protest, and for many their only home at the moment, I can guarantee that there will be resistance.
On Thursday Occupy Congress obtained a permit from Capitol Police to demonstrate on Capitol grounds on January 17, giving the greenlight to the protest affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Still of some concern is the recent transfer of “Union Square,” the area around the reflecting pool on the west side of the Capitol, from the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service to the Capitol Police. First Amendment demonstration rights have been litigated with National Park Police over many decades, while Capitol Police are more “arbitrary and restrictive.”