winter is coming, so don't stab your sister (ceilidh) wrote in ontd_political,
winter is coming, so don't stab your sister

Columbia police refuse to assist state officers in arresting "Occupy" protesters

An array of critics on Thursday accused Gov. Nikki Haley of stepping on Occupy Columbia members’ First Amendment rights more than they might have trampled vegetation on the State House grounds.

Among those disagreeing with Haley’s decision to have state officers arrest 19 of the protesters and order them off the grounds by 6 each night was Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Benjamin said the Columbia Police Department denied the state’s request to use the city police department’s paddy wagon to carry protesters to jail because city officials did not agree that protesters were a public-safety threat.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott made the decision with the support of Benjamin and the city manager, the mayor said.

“If laws had not been broken, then we saw no reason to assist them,” Benjamin said. “So we declined.”

On Thursday, the Occupy Columbia protest movement continued at the State House, but participants moved to an off-site location after 6 p.m. The 19 who were charged with trespassing were released from jail in the wee hours Thursday morning.

They and their supporters are working on a legal strategy for defending the arrests and for challenging the governor’s actions, said Keith Mosher, a Columbia resident who participated in the protest but was not arrested.

The arrests bolstered support for the Occupiers from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, which each issued statements in their support.

“It definitely was a shot in the arm,” Mosher said. “Nikki did more for us than she did for herself.”

The Occupy Columbia movement had been encamped on the State House lawn for 33 days Wednesday when Haley decided that the protesters had to leave after 6 p.m. She said the protesters had made a mess of the lawn with their sleeping bags and other gear. And she accused of them damaging plants and using the bathroom in bushes.

Haley ordered the S.C. Bureau of Protective Services, which has jurisdiction over the State House and grounds, to arrest anyone who refused. She cited a policy created by the S.C. Budget and Control Board’s General Services Division as the reason for her request, and she used a state statue governing use of state property as the authority for the arrests.

On Thursday, Haley’s office defended her actions.

“The governor was glad to see Occupy Columbia supporters back today to show the power of their voice,” her spokesman Rob Godfrey wrote in an e-mail. “They are welcome back as every citizen of our state is to voice their concerns tomorrow. The rules are the rules, and at 6:00 PM they must be back off the property. As the governor said, our State House is not a camping ground.”

But Jay Bender, a First Amendment lawyer in Columbia who also represents the S.C. Press Association and The State, said Haley violated the protesters’ rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government.

“It’s another sad chapter in South Carolina officials’ failure to respect the free-speech rights of people with whom they disagree,” Bender said.

He compared Wednesday’s standoff to the arrests of young black protesters in the 1960s who were ordered by Columbia’s city manager to leave the State House within 45 minutes. Those protesters successfully fought their trespassing arrests to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bender said.

“This conduct became illegal only because the governor decided it was illegal,” Bender said. “The constitution doesn’t support that.”

Now that the governor has had 19 people arrested for being on the grounds after 6 p.m., the Bureau of Protective Services must ask anyone there after dark to leave, Bender said. And he said the excuse that protesters were using the bathroom on the grounds fails to hold water, too.

“If you’re not going to let people use the State House grounds for peeing behind an azalea bush, then you’re going to have to cancel the Governor’s Cup road race,” Bender said. “Every year, you see people going to the bathroom behind bushes because they don’t have enough port-a-potties.”

The Occupy Columbia participants took issue with Haley’s claims that they had used the bathroom on the grounds. At least one portable toilet has been available on Sumter Street since the protest began in mid-October.

Tim Liszewski, a participant who was arrested, said the governor was lying about the protesters’ behavior.

“Anybody who came by the State House saw there was a disconnect between what the governor said and the actual facts on the ground,” he said.

He said the group was tidy, rotated its location to allow grass to recover and had a good relationship with the Bureau of Protective Services. He said Chief Zackary Wise was on board with a plan for the group to move to a less visible location during the upcoming Christmas-tree lighting ceremony, scheduled for Nov. 28.

“That should have answered any worries anybody had about that,” Liszewski said. “Governor Haley and her allies decided instead to act without talking to their citizens.”


note: I love that the Columbia city police were basically "lol, no" when the state officers asked them to help with arrests.
Tags: nikki haley, occupywallstreet, police, south carolina

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