The tent city that sprang up in relation to Occupy Denver, the local version of the Occupy Wall Street protests, can't become a permanent fixture at the State Capitol, Governor John Hickenlooper said today -- and the Colorado State Patrol confirms that discussions will be underway soon to determine how to address his concerns.
The area where campers have set up is under the jurisdiction of the CSP -- and rules forbid overnight camping in the park. Nonetheless, plenty of Occupy Denver types have been doing so as part of the demonstrations, which have gone on for more than two weeks.
Today, during an appearance on Mike Rosen's KOA talk show (hear it below), Hickenlooper said his representatives have told protesters they can't stay on the spot overnight -- instructions they've ignored to date. What next? That's complicated.
"As close as I can understand, they're on state property -- but we don't have a jail to put them in, and we haven't been able to find a way that the city, that the district attorney will prosecute," Hickenlooper said.
This isn't a new philosophy, he emphasized. "About six years ago, five years ago, we had a group that wanted to do a tent city... to dramatize the situation of homelessness," Hickenlooper recalled. "We told them, 'It's unsafe... If we let you do it, we have to let everyone else do it.'"
Such a stance in regard to Occupy Denver doesn't mean his administration is hostile to free speech, he said. In his words, "We have always supported the First Amendment," and he went on to mention policies put in place during the 2008 Democratic National Convention to encourage peaceful expression. He has no problem if Occupy Denver participants "want to stamp their feet and hold up signs and point out problems they see in this country." However, "we'd like them to leave every night by, like, nine o'clock, and then come back at, say, 6:30."
Other cities are grappling with similar problems; a reported 129 protesters have been arrested in Boston, for instance. But when Rosen suggested that the State Patrol should politely dismantle the so-called improvements made by the local protesters, Hickenlooper noted that doing so with people in their tents would be problematic. Besides, it's "not a burgeoning metropolis," he pointed out -- which is why he hasn't drawn "a line in the sand."
At the same time, though, he said, "I confess, I worry about precedent. If suddenly we have a park where everyone can camp out, why not the next park, and the next park... and all of a sudden, you don't have any rules that work.
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"We have to figure out exactly how we're going to work the jurisdictional issues," he added -- and that process appears to be underway. Colorado State Patrol spokesman Sergeant Mike Baker says the CSP heard Hickenlooper's remarks on the radio this morning, and "we're now trying to determine the best course of action. We'll work with everyone involved, including the governor's office and the Occupy Denver people, to resolve this situation." Meetings with various parties will be taking place this afternoon, he revealed.
Listen to Hickenlooper's appearance on KOA below. The pertinent part of the conversation begins at approximately the thirteen minute mark:
More from our Videos archive: "Occupy Denver video collection chronicles ongoing protests."