Tea party says cities favor Occupy protesters

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Tea party activists on Thursday accused officials in at least four cities of giving preferential treatment to anti-Wall Street protesters, and one group in Richmond is asking the city to repay $8,000 spent for permits and other needs.

In addition to Richmond and Charlottesville, Va., tea party groups in Washington and Atlanta said Occupy protesters have openly defied police and local officials without consequence. A national tea party coordinator echoed those claims.

“If you’re law-abiding citizens, they’re going to make you follow every bit and letter of the law,” said Mark Meckler, national coordinator and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. “What we’re talking about is selective enforcement of the law.”

Officials in those cities have denied accusations of favoritism, and authorities in other cities say they have had no such complaints. Pittsburgh officials said permits for events related to the First Amendment are routinely issued for free, and groups must provide their own portable sanitation. In Denver, Occupy protesters sleep on the sidewalk, which is legal in the city. And in Philadelphia, Occupy Philly organizers are going to be billed for expenses including electricity and portable toilets.

The tea party groups’ claims also come on the heels of mass arrests and shows of force in Atlanta and Oakland, Calif. In Atlanta, police in riot gear recently arrested more than 50 people who had been camped out in a city park. In Oakland, police clashes with protesters left an Iraq war veteran in critical condition with a skull fracture.

The Richmond Tea Party said Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ administration sought permit fees, portable toilets and other demands for their events, but has given Occupy Richmond a free pass. The occupation has grown to a tent city, with a makeshift library, a volleyball net and a row of portable toilets. Jones has said that because he is a product of the civil rights movement he has allowed the Occupy protesters to remain since Oct. 17.

“He’s sympathizing with them,” said Colleen Owens, a spokeswoman for the Richmond Tea Party. “We would never, as a tea party, have gotten away with not complying with the law.”

Tea party organizers had to buy liability insurance, hire police and emergency personnel and even keep a defibrillator on site, Owens said.

The mayor declined to answer questions from The Associated Press on Thursday afternoon during a visit to the city’s crumbling Kanawha Plaza. A spokeswoman, Tammy D. Hawley, said the tea party groups had not contacted the city about the bills for their rallies.

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