By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Members of Occupy St. Louis stressed Tuesday in court that occupation of a downtown park is vital part of their protest.
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson was to decide Tuesday whether to grant a preliminary injunction allowing Occupy St. Louis to reestablish their camp at Kiener Plaza, where members had been staying since early October.
St. Louis officials gave notice Thursday that the city would begin enforcing its 10 p.m. park curfew ordinance. After Jackson refused to grant a temporary injunction Friday night, 27 protesters were arrested without incident early Saturday. 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.
Twenty-four protesters then filed a motion to keep the city from enforcing the curfew. By midday, the court hearing was still going.
During the hearing, an attorney for the city, Don Gillespie, made the point 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," protester John Mills testified. He said other groups over the years have tried everything from letter-writing campaigns to sidewalk demonstrations, "and nothing has changed."
Hundreds of St. Louis demonstrators are protesting in solidarity with other Occupy groups nationwide against what they say is corporate greed and economic inequality. The protests in St. Louis have been peaceful, unlike those in some other cities, notably Oakland, Calif. Even the arrests on Saturday were quiet despite the presence of several hundred protesters and onlookers.
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 passersby at all hours of the day.
But Mills and another protester, Chrissie 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. 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.