Occupy’s unintended legacy: more restrictions on protests
It's an ironic legacy for a movement conceived as a voice for the downtrodden.
Across California and the nation, Occupy protests have prompted cities to tighten restrictions on protesters and behavior in public space in ways that opponents say threaten free speech and worsen conditions for homeless people.
Governments now regulate with new vigor where protesters may stand and walk and what they can carry. Protest permits are harder to get and penalties are steeper. Camping is banned from Los Angeles parks by a new, tougher ordinance. Philadelphia and Houston tightened restrictions on feeding people in public.
After Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zucotti Park, protesters were allowed to return but faced a long list of park rules that changed daily, said Sarah Knuckey, a New York University law professor who worked with Occupy Wall Street. New York City police and park security refused entry to the park based on violations such as possessing food, musical instruments and yoga mats, she said.
Free speech advocates say the trend is dismaying. "It reflects a hostility to protest," said Linda Lye, attorney for ACLU in Northern California. "What we've seen is a response not different from Bull Connor."
Mara Verheyden Hilliard, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, said that although city officials often deny any connection to Occupy in defending the new measures, she believes Occupy is their real target.
City officials defended the restrictions as legitimate attempts to protect public spaces, which they say were subjected to unprecedented new uses during the protests. Free speech, in Occupy's case, took the form of tent cities that required constant police attention and expensive cleanup. In Los Angeles, costs for police overtime and cleanup exceeded $4.7 million.
"The movement has a right to exercise speech, but the city has a right to regulate its public spaces," Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. William Carter said.
Homeless advocates say people living on the streets will suffer long after the last Occupy tent comes down.
"There are unhoused individuals that are the daily victims of these laws," said Neil Donovan, executive director for the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington.
-- Frank Shyong
Photo: Darren McKenzie Taylor of Occupy L.A. dangles from ropes tied to a traffic signal pole in Century City during a protest in November. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times