Occupy St. Louis group loses court bid
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal judge refused Tuesday to order Kiener Plaza re-opened for round-the-clock protests by the group Occupy St. Louis, whose tent city was ousted over the weekend after police began enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew in city parks.
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson heard more than four hours of testimony and legal arguments Tuesday before denying the protesters’ request for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the curfew ordinance.
Ruling from the bench, Jackson said Occupy St. Louis failed to show that the curfew was being selectively enforced in Kiener Plaza or that the enforcement was a reaction to the political nature of the protest, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Jackson also said Occupy St. Louis failed to demonstrate that it was likely to prevail on the merits of its case.
The St. Louis ruling came the same day that a judge on the state Supreme Court of New York ruled that Occupy Wall Street protesters did not have a constitutional right to camp indefinitely in a privately owned New York City park that is open to the public.
Occupy St. Louis maintained its tent city in Kiener Plaza from early October until police arrested 27 members without incident early Saturday, after Jackson rejected a request for a temporary restraining order. Police and parks workers then took down the remaining 15 to 20 tents in the small park a few blocks from Busch Stadium, in the heart of downtown.
Don Gillespie, an attorney for the city, noted during Tuesday’s hearing that demonstrators could still protest on the sidewalk 24 hours a day. But protesters John Mills and Chrissie Brooks testified that the occupation is a big part of their message against corporate greed.
“The occupation itself is the speech,” Mills testified. He said other groups over the years have tried everything from letter-writing campaigns to sidewalk demonstrations, “and nothing has changed.”
Police and city officials have said the demonstrators are welcome to stay in Kiener Plaza during regular park hours — 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. And Gillespie made the point that they can carry signs on the sidewalks or talk with passers-by at all hours of the day.
But Mills and Brooks said the end of the occupation of Kiener Plaza has had a devastating effect, with far fewer demonstrators gathered in the park at a given time. Hundreds of demonstrators had been showing up, and Mills said many of the protesters have not been back since the eviction.
Meanwhile, the loss of the tents means they no longer have immediate access to media, medical supplies and food, he said.
Mills also noted that, unlike days past, there is now a constant police presence. “It’s intimidating,” he said.
Gillespie, while questioning the protesters, cited insurance concerns. He also pointed out that Kiener Plaza is not set up for campers — it has no permanent restrooms and no shower facilities.