by Jeff Woods
A dozen Occupy Nashville protesters, undeterred by their arrests and six hours in detention, have marched back onto the Legislative Plaza this morning claiming victory in their cause.
“Whose plaza? Our plaza!” they yelled as they arrived in the rain.
Enforcing a new 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew on the Capitol grounds, state troopers arrested 29 demonstrators at 3 a.m. and hauled them away in buses to jail, ending the three-week occupation of the Plaza.
The magistrate of the court refused to hear the charges, saying the state didn't give the protesters enough notice of the curfew, which was announced only yesterday afternoon. The judge advised the Highway Patrol to free the protesters. But instead troopers detained them at the jail and began issuing citations for criminal trespass. They finally went free at around 9 a.m.
“It was a great first step,” says Occupy Nashville’s Adam Knight, an eighth-grade teacher. “Absolutely it was a victory. We showed solidarity. We stood together. It really galvanized our group. Now we’re going to gain momentum. They had to take us off and now we’re back.”
Tripp Hunt, a lawyer for Occupy Nashville, accused state officials of tricking the protesters.
“They went back on their word,” Hunt said. “They indicated that they would not arrest them until today. That was very disingenuous. They obviously meant to mislead.”
The Haslam administration clearly deceived the media, apparently to curtail coverage of their dead-of-night police action. State spokeswoman Lola Potter told reporters yesterday that the protesters wouldn’t be arrested until they had an opportunity today to apply for one of the new state permits to hold demonstrations at the Capitol. In fact, Potter made the case that it was unfair and unreasonable to do what the state did—that is, arrest the protesters before giving them a little time to ask for a permit.
“Not tonight,” Potter said yesterday when asked when the arrests would take place. "We're just now announcing the policy after 1 o'clock in the afternoon, so we're not going to enforce it today. We're going to assume that they are going to do the right thing and get a permit tomorrow.”
We guess state officials decided, fair or not, the protesters had to go. As it turned out, Occupy Nashville had no intention of asking for a permit. Last night before the arrests, the group adopted a resolution calling the state policy “a direct violation of our constitutional rights.”
“We intend to resist this illegal action by the state in a peaceful and dignified manner,” the resolution says.
Occupy Nashville has called a meeting for 7 tonight on the Plaza steps. “If you oppose the actions of the state in prohibiting free political speech at Legislative Plaza, please attend this meeting and show your support,” the group says in a statement.
To avoid arrest, the statement points out, people can stand on the city-owned sidewalks on the street outside state jurisdiction.