House Oversight Committee: Who's Responsible for the Illegality of Occupy DC?

Erika Johnsen

1/18/2012 10:33:00 AM - Erika Johnsen

There's no amount of corruption too negligible for the attention of the House Oversight Committee when Rep. Darrell Issa is at the helm.

First, an anecdote: Last November, I and a few of my Townhall teammates attended AFP's Defending the Dream Summit at the D.C. convention center. Upon exiting on Friday evening, we were warned that there would be Occupiers surrounding the building 'in protest' of the conference, and sure enough, the street corners around the building were host to small knots of grungy people trying to intimidate and belittle us. As we walked by them to our car, I started to feel acutely uneasy: these hobos were just parked in the street, being generally disruptive and most definitely blocking traffic. But, there were plenty of policemen standing by, and I was pretty sure it's illegal to just randomly decide to loiter on a busy street without a permit--shouldn't these law-enforcement officers be issuing tickets, or arresting people, or doing something to remove them from the middle of the road? It was fishy, to say the least, and I knew that something wasn't right.

More than a month ago, Chairman Issa demanded answers as to why the D.C. Occupiers have been allowed to live relatively unmolested in the public square, and the Committee is following through to figure out why the law is being so flagrantly flouted, and by whom [emphasis mine]:

WASHINGTON- The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear from District of Columbia officials and the National Park Service next Tuesday during a subcommittee hearing titled "McPherson Square: Who Made the Decision to Allow Indefinite Camping in the Park?"

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Department of Health Director Dr. Mohammed Akhter will testify on the impact of the ongoing encampment on public health and public safety inside and outside the park.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis will testify. Interior Assistant Secretary Rachel Jacobson was invited to testify alongside Jarvis, but has not yet confirmed.

Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-SC., wrote to witnesses that "this hearing will focus on the decision-making process that has allowed continued camping in McPherson Square for more than three months despite the apparent illegality of it."

"As you are aware, Section 7.96 of Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations prohibits camping in parks unless it occurs in designated camping areas or is specifically allowed by the National Park Service," Gowdy noted. "A flyer posted and distributed in McPherson Square by the NPS emphasized that 'camping is not permitted' in the park.

Unlike other camps operating throughout the nation during fall of 2011, the National Park Service asserts the federal government has "discretion" over existence of the camp in McPherson Square.

Last week, District Mayor Vincent Gray wrote to the National Park Service to remove the McPherson Square campsite, "at a minimum," to allow District officials to clean up the park and remove health hazards. His December 16th letter to the National Park Service officials seeking assistance remains unanswered.

Whether it was at the federal or D.C. level, somebody actively decided not to enforce these park laws, despite the filth, rat infestation, violence, neglect, and other hazards to public safety Occupying the park, and it warms my heart that the Oversight Committee is trying to identify the accountable parties. Rule of law, for the win!

Also of interest: Nancy Pelosi disowning the general Occupy movement from the Democratic party (perhaps she has some sense, after all?), although she does appear to sympathize with some of their misguided concerns. (Take note of the 'Bank of America' banner behind her. Heh.)