My Letter to Governor Haslam on the Restriction of Free Assembly on Public Land
Yesterday, Tennessee’s Governor instituted new rules limiting public demonstrations in Legislative Plaza (state public land) to specific hours and requiring daily approval of permits which will cost $65. After stating that the permit process would not be in place until this morning, the government sent police in in the middle of the night to remove Occupy Nashville demonstrators under the guise of a newly implemented curfew. 75 state troopers were sent to arrest 29 protesters. Below is the text of the letter I just sent to the Governor’s office in response:
I am writing to express my concern about the sudden implementation of limited demonstration hours in Legislative Plaza and insistence on permits and curfews in this public space. While many areas do require permits for large events in public spaces, the creation of these rules mid-event suggests a desire to specifically interrupt Occupy Nashville efforts. It is profoundly disturbing to consider whether permits may be required or denied based upon whether the demonstration’s focus finds favor with state government, especially when the focus of dissent is the government itself. The suggestion by Bill Gibbons that others using or traveling through the Plaza outside of curfew hours would get a pass depending on their circumstances further suggests an intention to enforce the new rules inequitably.
I am also disturbed by the contradiction between clear reports that enforcement would not happen until today, and the frankly sneaky manner in which the curfew issue was employed to provide cover for removing people who had a reasonable belief that they would not need to clear out of the public space until today, and to do so when the least possible media would be present.
I’ve already viewed elsewhere the generic response sent to others who have written on this issue, the meat of which is:
“While this administration wholeheartedly supports freedom of speech, assembly and petition, it is our responsibility to keep people safe on state property. Abiding by these hours allows for a safe event, while ensuring the people’s right to peaceably assemble.”
I am certain you don’t mean to imply that it is only possible to keep people safe on state property during the hours of 9am to 4pm, the hours for which permits may ostensibly be approved. If so, I would expect that safety should also be a concern during the additional non-curfew hours,* 4pm to 10pm and 6am to 9am. There is no apparent rationale for the failure to align these hours and allow permits for assembly during the full 6am to 10pm time frame. The most charitable reading of this mismatch is a governmental unwillingness to provide for the proper security during some hours for those in exercise of their Constitutional liberties on public land. A less charitable read of this mismatch would suggest that it is the specific intent of the Governor’s office to limit the exercise of free speech and assembly by forbidding such activities on state land during the hours which most people have off work, thereby reducing the numbers of people who may participate in such activities.
Free speech and assembly are perhaps the most sacred rights of Americans, the tools which provide for all other rights to be acquired and defended. Interfering with these rights in such a manner is unconscionable. I urge you to rescind this misguided action and restore the exercise of constitutional freedoms to Legislative Plaza.
Rachel R. Walden
*Added: above, where it says, “during the additional non-curfew hours, 4pm to 10pm and 6am to 9am” – I don’t think my wording was clear initially. Those are the hours in which people are allowed to be in the Plaza and not under curfew, but demonstrations are not being allowed.
I’d like to also offer my thanks and kudos to Night Court Magistrate Tom Nelson who refused to sign criminal trespass warrants for the protesters taken into custody.
Here’s what some other folks have had to say. I am particularly enjoying Aunt B’s writings on the subject.
Aunt B at Tiny Cat Pants:
Pith in the Wind (Nashville Scene):
New items, 10/29:
This news from overnight reinforces the concern I express above about unequal enforcement of the new rule (emphasis added):
There was no noticeable law enforcement presence for nearly two hours after the curfew went into effect, while adjacent theaters let out and patrons filtered back through the plaza to their cars without being challenged for violating the restrictions.
“Nothing was done to them, they were not arrested,” said protester Michael Custer, 46. “But we are arrested while we are expressing our constitutional right to free speech.”
Once the theater traffic cleared, dozens of state troopers descended on the plaza and began arresting protesters and a journalist for the Nashville Scene, an alternative weekly newspaper.
New good posts: