Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tucson Activist Craig Barber discusses constitutional protections against fines levied on local Occupy movements


Keith and Craig Barber, one of the organizers for Occupy Tucson, discuss constitutional protections against the fines and other tactics local governments are using to punish Occupy movements around the United States.

KEITH OLBERMANN: “Congress shall make no law bridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to — peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In our fourth story — despite those words in the First Amendment, several cities — including Tucson, Arizona — have begun enforcing petty laws with hefty fines in an attempt to financially force the Occupy protesters to break up. Starting Saturday, police in Tucson began writing criminal citations to anyone in Armory Park past 10:30 P.M. prevailing local time. Fifty-three citations were issued on Saturday, 32 Sunday, and between 30 and 40 on Monday. Each citation comes with a penalty of up to $1,000 in fines, up to six months in jail, up to three years on probation. And, yes, many protesters have received several citations.

Tucson authorities stressed to the protesters that the law does not prohibit their right to peaceably assemble, but prohibits camping in the park. The Arizona constitution, though, takes all this one step further which makes the citations seem even more egregious. According to Article Two, Section Five of that state constitution, “The right of petition, and of the people peaceably to assemble for the common good, shall never be abridged.”

Similarly, Occupy Dallas participants were forced to relocate from Pioneer Plaza to a park outside City Hall after Dallas city officials informed them that to obtain a permit to gather in the park, the group needed an insurance policy — a $1 million insurance policy. Joining me now one of the organizers for Occupy Tucson, Craig Barber. Good to talk to you again, sir.

BARBER: Thank you, Keith. Thank you for having me back.

OLBERMANN: How do you fight accumulating $1,000 fines?

BARBER: We fight it any way we can. We’ve put out posts on our website and our Facebook letting the public know what is going on about the $1,000 fines, about the misdemeanor charges that are being handed out every night. And we’ve linked to our city council web page, which has their email addresses and their phone numbers, encouraging the public to demand that the charges against the occupiers be dropped and also that TPD — the Tucson Police Department — stop using these tactics to intimidate the protesters.

Fortunately. from what we’ve been hearing from our attorney from the National Lawyers Guild, who has an avenue of contact with the city, they have been getting flooded. Their phones have been getting flooded and their email boxes have been getting flooded. So, our community is definitely behind us in this and they have been showing it. And, additionally, we have been hearing from this attorney, the tone that he has been hearing from City Hall has been changing. Again, nothing publicly coming out one way or the other as far as policy is concerned, but definitely a more conciliatory tone.

And another avenue that we’re taking right now is as we speak, Occupy Tucson is marching down to City Hall. There’s a city council meeting occurring right now. We’re holding a rally out in front of City Hall and we’re also sending in representatives from Occupy Tucson to participate in the public-speaking aspect of that meeting.

OLBERMANN: Given the state and Federal Constitutional citations that I just read, do you — in addition to community pressure and the possibility of some sort of negotiated settlement with the city — do you have legal action that you can take?

BARBER: The attorney from the National Lawyers Guild, who has been helping us out all along, has advised me that he thinks we have a very strong case for our actions in the park being protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. And he thinks that it’s definitely a protected right, what we are doing — the spirit of the law as far as the city code, which is, you know, providing or putting the curfew on the park, which is preventing us from being in there after 10:30 — he thinks that the spirit of the law is not encompassing what we’re doing. We are expressing our first-amendment rights. And he is researching what actions he is planning on taking as far as what injunctions he might file, what lawsuits he is planning to file. And he says that he thinks we are in a very strong position, constitutionally speaking.

OLBERMANN: In the interim, are you going to stay in the park?

BARBER: Absolutely. We’re not moving.

OLBERMANN: The group in Cincinnati, Occupy Cincinnati, had to file suit in federal court saying the city officials were violating their first-amendment rights. They got 200 citations, they were each at $100 roughly or thereabouts. Is the prospect of a federal suit also an option for you guys or are you working just state-wise?

BARBER: All options are on the table at the moment. We are not going to negate any avenue at all. And again, our attorney is researching what those options are right now. And as soon as he lets us know, you know, what he thinks the best course of action is, that’s what we’re going to take. But, I mean, what we are seeing is an absolutely absolute lack of leadership from our elected representatives locally. They’ve been hiding behind the bureaucracy. We’ve only seen press releases from the chief of police, we’ve only seen press releases from the Parks and Recreation Department, and these are not the city officials which set policy. These are the city officials of the bureaucracy who are there to enforce the policy. There’s been an absolute silence in the public forum from our elected representatives.

And this is a movement, you know, encouraging people from all ethnicities, all genders, all, you know, economic backgrounds, all ages to come out and participate in this. And you would think that these are the types of constituents that these politicians would want to come out publicly on the side of, and I think they’re missing a golden opportunity. I mean, you look at LA — the city councilmen of LA came out strongly and publicly in support of the Occupy LA movement — and that halted LAPD dead in their tracks when they were going to go in there and bust them up. And it’s just chilling and disturbing to see an absolute lack of leadership on behalf of the city local government here in Tucson.

And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we have local elections coming up, and they are being afraid that, you know, if they come out on the side of this, that it will reflect poorly on them. And I think that’s just a completely misguided belief. Coming out on the side of the people, the working class people and the poor people and the unemployed people of this country can only help their cause, can only show the public that, you know, they are 100 percent behind their constituents and I believe would give them a landslide re-election. They are really missing the opportunity here.

OLBERMANN: Wouldn’t be the first time. Craig Barber of Occupy Tucson. Great, thanks, good luck.
BARBER: Thank you so much.

Read and download the complete transcript from the October 18, 2011 edition of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”

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