Police arrest Cincinnati protesters after judge's order expires

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2011 6:03 PM
Police arrest Cincinnati protesters after judge's order expires

By Joe Wessels

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Cincinnati police officers moved into a downtown park and arrested 23 anti-Wall Street protesters early on Friday after a federal judge's order banning legal action against them expired.

Police also arrested several protesters in Tampa, Florida, on Friday.

In Cincinnati, city officials said longstanding U.S. Supreme Court rulings about free speech and remaining in public spaces gave them the latitude to force out the protesters in Piatt Park, the city's oldest, located in a downtown median between office buildings.

After a meeting of protest representatives and city officials with federal Judge Susan Dlott Thursday, she had refused to extend an order she had issued earlier in the week preventing police from ticketing or arresting protesters. That order had come after protesters filed a lawsuit.

More than 200 citations had been issued prior to Dlott's order.

"Their claim was that sleeping in the park was their form of expressing their speech," said Cincinnati City Solicitor John Curp. "We couldn't continue to allow that."

Hugh Hirsch, 24, was back at the park late Friday morning after being arrested earlier, calling his time in jail and new arrest record a "necessary sacrifice."

"I'm against capitalism," he said. "I think it is destroying the world. It doesn't mean I'm a socialist. I feel we need to put the brakes on this."

Fourteen days into their protest, members of Occupy Cincinnati -- the local offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York -- and city officials had been meeting to communicate each others' concerns, but Curp said talks between the two sides were no longer productive.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

"The city was very much concerned with health and safety conditions in the park," he said. "Issues related to that were escalating far faster than the communication regarding how (the protesters) were going to exit voluntarily."

Police warned protesters before beginning arrests Friday morning. Those who did not comply with the order to leave the park were arrested, while approximately 75 others stood on a nearby sidewalk, outside of the park, said Jens Rasmussen, a union member and theater worker and a spokesman for Occupy Cincinnati.

About 10 protesters lingered, some holding signs, acknowledged by honking motorists. Rasmussen, 41, said he expected the crowds to grow again later in the day, adding that the protest was far from over. "Absolutely not."

Cincinnati Park Board workers power washed the park Friday morning while Cincinnati Police officers stood nearby. Police said they were keeping anyone from stopping in the park during the cleaning, but said the public, including protesters, would be allowed in afterward.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said city laws have to be enforced, but applauded the group on their efforts.

"They have achieved a lot. I can guarantee you that. Everyone in Cincinnati was talking about this," she said.

"If they want to continue, they can, but what they need to is request permits and recognize that the city can regulate time and place."

In Tampa, police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the First Amendment rights of protesters were accommodated in the past two weeks by allowing them to sleep on the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park sidewalk between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m, but the protesters refused to move on Friday morning when police officers went by for a routine wake-up call.

Davis said officers and Occupy Tampa protesters negotiated for three hours before officers arrested six people accused of obstructing a sidewalk.

Police said they violated a city ordinance that does not allow people to place an article or thing on a sidewalk or other property owned by the city.

Davis said authorities hoped they could return without arrests.

"We want their voices heard," Davis said. "There's nothing we want more. But their voices can't be heard from the back of a police car."

After the arrests, the group continued its protest at the downtown Tampa police station.

"We still want to maintain being peaceful," said Kevin Cuesta, 24, a University of South Florida student and protester. "But yeah, the cordiality (with police) is broken."

(Additional reporting by Ileana Morales in Tampa; Editing by Jerry Norton)