Occupy Denver's legal team explores precedents regarding tents and symbolic speech

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With 23 arrests related to Occupy Denver this weekend, the group's legal team is constantly adapting. This includes a new decision to request that arrestees go through the public defender's office instead of receiving volunteer counsel, as well as frequent reflections on precedents. At this weekend's arraignment, occupation legal strategist Charles Nadler pointed out a particularly pertinent one.

In 1984, a Supreme Court case took on an issue similar to the assertion that Occupy Denver's use of tents can be considered symbolic speech. On Saturday, protesters set up and decorated three tents with symbolic symbols -- Gandhi quotes, the anarchy symbol, "99%." But those tents, like all the previous ones, attracted immediate negative attention from riot police, who removed the tents and arrested twenty people during an evening of cat and mouse from Civic Center Park through the 16th Street Mall.

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Kelsey Whipple
Protesters gather in front of tents erected this Saturday before police intervention.
The 1984 case, however, offers the benefit of hindsight. In 1982, the National Park Service allowed the nonprofit homeless shelter Community For Creative Non-Violence to establish two symbolic tent cities, with a permit, in Lafayette Park and the National Mall. However, the approval came with fine print: Demonstrators could set up the tents, but they couldn't sleep in them. Any attempt to do so violated area regulations allowing camping only in established campgrounds, an official sector that did not include the areas where the symbolic tents were set up.

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jacobleron
jacobleron

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Rob Piper
Rob Piper

Interesting.  I'm learning today that Occupy Denver has a '48 person legal team', yet I don't recall seeing any of the 'legal team' on the lines at the protest.  I and other members of the Legal Issues Working Group for Occupy Denver have worked tirelessly to record and document the brutal oppression of citizens at Occupy Denver, yet I've not met a single member of this 48-person 'legal team'.  Are these all criminal defense attorneys?  I've yet to see a single attorney take any civil action regarding the systematic suppression of speech by the Colorado State Patrol and Denver Police Department. 

Criminal defense is important-but a successful petition for injunctive relief would STOP the arrests, in part or in whole.  Why is this not a part of the legal strategy?  Is Mr. Nadler unaware of the scores of successful petitions for injunctive relief that have been filed across the country?  Is he unaware of the 14 separate cases which erode the restrictions established in Clark?  You know, quite a bit has happened since Clark-Texas v. Johnson, Citizens United v. F.E.C., City of Minneapolis-St. Paul v. R.A.V., and many other cases have clearly reinforced the almost absolute right to free speech in the United States.  Protecting the sanctity of military decorations, federal election law, and protecting the American flag itself are ALL outweighed by this important civil liberty-and the cases that establish that ALL FOLLOWED Clark v. CCNV.

ACLU, I'm calling you out.  Members of the Occupy Denver Legal Issues Working Group have REPEATEDLY called the ACLU and pleaded with them to get involved.  Thus far, we have received nothing but refusals and assertions that there is no civil rights case to be made.  I'm not a lawyer-though I am a member of the working group.  The rumor is that the ACLU needs more 'evidence' of state suppression of speech before making a civil case.  Does anyone at the Colorado ACLU have a television?  Is what occurred on Saturday insufficient justification for a civil rights claim?  Can no one at the ACLU understand that hunting American citizens down in the streets of Denver with battalions of Gang Unit officers for 4 and one half hours might just chill free expression?  I wonder if ACLU is waiting for a protester to be killed before getting involved.  Would a protester's corpse be sufficient evidence?  Is it necessary?

If you all don't want to get involved, so be it-but be real.  Stop claiming that there's no precedent for a civil rights case here-because it's a bold-faced lie in my amateur opinion. 

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Strong take, Rob -- one we're going to make an upcoming Comment of the Day. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

As a representative of the Legal Issues Working Group, I cannot stress enough the importance of documenting the abuses of the DPD and of filing complaints with the Office of the Independent Monitor (http://www.denvergov.org/OIM/C....  Whether you are a defendant or not, if you witnessed abuse by police, file a report!

Please send copies of video definitely showing abuse by officers to legal@occupydenver.org -- youtube and other sites are fine too, but we want a central repository for reference.  DPD will not get its comeuppance until the many civil rights cases which will arise out of its campaign against the First Amendment can be filed, and that must await the resolution of the mostly bogus criminal cases filed against  ~80 defendants by the City.

DFMF
DFMF

If only you put half as much effort into exercising a little personal initiative and improving your lot in life as you put into provoking the police and trying to play the victim all of the time, maybe you wouldn't be reduced to sleeping in a tent amidst a sea of urine and feces.  First Amendment rights do come with limitations.  Try screaming "fire!" in a crowded movie theater and see what happens.  Likewise, free speech protection does NOT give you carte blanche to set up shop on public grounds, maintained by taxpayer dollars for the leisurely enjoyment of said taxpayers, for extended periods of time without filing for a permit and more importantly PAYING for the permit and all other costs associated with maintenance and cleanup.

Free speech does not allow you to break numerous civic ordinances because you are dissatisfied with how crappy your life is and just want to blame the 1% bogeyman, and of course the police, for all of your problems.  If you physically provoke the police and break the law - repeatedly - don't be surprised if you catch a club across the face.  The applause you hear afterward will be from all of the rational Americans who are growing tired of your collective juvenile nonsense.

You are not revolutionaries and you are not modern day crusaders.  You are a collection of indolent smacked asses who do not know how to cope when things don't always go your way.  Grow up already.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

Your belief that protesters are infringing others' rights is not borne out by the facts; it is an irrational inference on your part -- read the Post much?

I know many residents of the Westliche Reich believe that a permit from the government is required for any activity, but if Colorado is part of the United States of America, we can speak, assemble, and protest without one.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

Your all's obsession with urine and feces is just hilarious!  "Flaming bags of poo" (another wingnut commenter), "sleeping in a tent amidst a sea of urine and feces" -- any imagination you have would seem to be scatological.

I do not camp out, but I support those who do.  If you put half as much effort into learning what is happening at Occupy Denver firsthand as you do into believing the lies and half-truths fed to you by Colorado's incompetent, corporate media, you might get a clue.

DFMFisSad
DFMFisSad

Well, well, well....looks like Robert tweaked the pompous bourgeois DFMF to the break-out-the-dictionary-and-pocket-constitutional-law-primer-limit.

You gave yourself away as a tea-partier with the whole dime-store ConLaw analysis.  Oh yeah, that and cheering "a club across the face."  It's laughable that you may count yourself as a "rational American."  Rational Americans applaud the exercise of Constitutional Rights over the trampling of a patch of grass.

And, of course, Westword applauds free speech when it allows me to reply to you, in all earnestness:  Go Fuck Yourself!

DFMFisSad
DFMFisSad

Ha!, your affiliation with the tea party (capitalized, no less!) is confirmed with your baseball metaphors and "save the parks from these ruffians!" faux outcry ineffectively masking your disdain for the exercise of Constitional Rights.  Oh how you must wish to be a Michelle Bachmann corndog!

"Oh the humanity, they've taken our parkland from us, so that we can no longer ignore it like we have in the past."  Too bad, there are not THOUSANDS of "rational Americans" demanding that the parks be cleared.  That's the ironic beauty of your postings.  You're in the minority, a minority that spends hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on "cracking down" on a peaceful demonstration.  It's not anarchy, but the opposite.   Occupy Denver is in control.  It acts...the police react.

You've already lost.  You're paying what is most precious to you;  time, attention and money.  Which is apparently what frustrates you most.  How's that (metaphorical) billy club across the chops feel?  Let me put it in terms you'll understand down at The Club: 

game, set, match.

DFMF
DFMF

I have no affiliation whatsoever with the Tea Party.  Strike one, ballbag.

I see that occupy nurseries are being closed up around the country.  Oddly, there are not THOUSANDS of enraged Americans demanding that the squatters be allowed to continue soiling public parks with their drug use, sexual assaults, and vandalism all under the banner of the First Amendment.  I know, I know, here comes the " butthey aren't part of the movement" excuse.  Yes, they are.  They are the 99% afterall, as I am sure the 1% would not be caught anywhere near these encampments.  Strike two, ballbag.

I'm all for your First Amendment rights.  Seriously.  For all I care, you guys can show up every single day when the park opens to the public, hold up your ridiculous signs, dressed in your silly costumes, and chant like a bunch of mindless drones about the "military industrial complex" trying to ruin your vapid lives.  Then you can go home when the park closes, take a shower, and come back the next morning and start all over again.  Knock yourselves out.  Do it day after day, week after week, month after month for all I care, as long as you pay for the permits as required by city law.  However, you forfeit your first amendment rights the moment you annex public taxpayer property for your own personal use in an unlawful fashion and then have the audacity to tell the police that THEY have no business there.  Strike three, ballbag.

That's why your little daycare centers will soon be closed up for good.  And believe, there won't be a scintilla of outcry from the American public.  You've worn out your welcome and it is time for the children to go home.  And yes, I will applaud especially vigorously when you catch a billy club across the chops, you anarchistic little shit.

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