ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – A federal judge denied a request from Occupy St. Louis protesters to set up tents and resume their overnight camp-out at Kiener Plaza.
In testimony Tuesday, members say not being able to set up tents and camp out overnight at Kiener Plaza has severely hampered efforts to spread their message against corporate greed.
Attorneys for the city of St. Louis countered that staying at Kiener 24/7 is not critical to the movement’s cause, because they are allowed in the park from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and can stand on the sidewalks overnight to further their agenda if they wish to do so.
Some group members are seeking a preliminary injunction that could eventually clear the way for them to reestablish the tent city that was taken down overnight Friday, when more than two-dozen protestors were arrested by city police for violating the city’s 10 p.m. curfew.
Attorney Joseph P. Welch is representing two-dozen Occupy members as individuals — he says the city is selectively enforcing the curfew law as a convenient way to push out protestors, who first set up their tent city on October 1st.
“(City) government does have an interest in regulating these things,” Welch allowed, “but they cannot do it in a way that violates the protestors’ First Amendment rights.”
There were a couple of surprising turns to the testimony before Circuit Judge Carol Jackson Tuesday.
One Occupy member who took the witness stand said they might not have ended up at Kiener Plaza at all if not for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
“They directed us down to Kiener,” testified Chrissie Brooks, who said it happened when demonstrators first gathered outside the Federal Reserve Building.
Of course, it was then the police department that rousted Occupy St. Louis members from the plaza overnight Friday.
And things turned contentious when Cheryl Compton, an admitted “homeless woman” who drifted toward the Occupy movement about a month ago, took the stand.
Don Gillespie, an attorney for the city of St. Louis, hammered Compton about why she decided to completely remove all of her belongings from the plaza before police arrived Friday night, seemingly implying that she might have had something that she didn’t want officers to discover among her belongings.
Compton testified that she chose not to be among those who put themselves at risk for arrest “for personal reasons”.
“And what were those personal reasons?”, Gillespie pressed.
“That’s none of your business!,” an obviously irritated Compton snapped.
She then chided Gilliespie from the witness stand for asking “trick” questions and twisting her words around.
“I may be homeless, but I’m not stupid! I’ve got a strong intellect,” she told Gillespie.
At that point, Judge Jackson cautioned Compton to simply answer the questions as they were presented to her, and not air her personal feelings or express her frustration in open court.
Compton wrapped up her testimony by saying they left Kiener Plaza in better shape than they found it six weeks earlier.
“We were the ones who kept it clean, who kept it safe,” she testified, showing the court a plastic whistle around her neck for use if she felt threatened while camping out at the park.
“Not from the Occupyers, but from ‘outside people’,” Compton clarified.
Another point of contention was the demonstrators’ apparent refusal to sign the necessary permits to allow them to stay at the park.
City attorney Don Gillespie prodded several demonstrators by asking them if it was right that the city would be held accountable if anyone was injured or attacked while they were staying at the park, despite several posted signs warning people of the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, because Occupyers refused to sign the permit.
In the end, the main complaint of the plaintiffs was that the demonstration, and thus their First Amendment rights to free speech, had been severely undercut by the removal of the tents.
“The occupation IS our statement,” insisted demonstrator John Mills.
City officials countered that camping out in tents is not critical to the group’s effort to get their message out, pointing out they could still do that from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
There’s no word on when a decision will be made on the group’s request for a temporary injunction that would override the city’s curfew and allow the tents to return, but the protestors themselves remained adamant that either way the movement is not over.
Mills was asked at one point when Occupyers would be satisfied and decide to end their protest.
“Until our grievances are heard,” he replied.
And how long are you willing to stay until that happens?
“Indefinitely,” came the defiant reply.
Copyright KMOX Radio