The political triumvirate of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers held a joint news conference this morning aimed firmly at dispersing the ever-growing camp at Occupy Denver. Protesters will no longer be allowed to stay overnight without facing confrontation from the police. The consequence of violating the policy is arrest.
"This is about health, safety of the Occupy Denver protesters, and the public," Hancock says. "I know there's economic pain, but even though I empathize, my job is to uphold the law and keep Denver safe."
A Colorado State Patrol notice handed out after the conference (it's on view below) reads: "Violation of the... rules will result in arrest."
The focus here is not on the First Amendment, the trio maintains, but instead on the health and safety of everyone involved. Their final decision: Protesters may continue the occupation, which is held on state property, from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m., but are forbidden from staying overnight any longer. Although the group has done so ever since the first day of its occupation, that activity is in direct opposition to state law.
"I initially expected it would be just a few days and then it would fizzle," says Hancock, who expressed worry about the safety of the protesters, the police and the property. "And then you wonder what kind of precedent this is setting."
The press conference, although occasionally rushed, remained stern, as the political figures were asked about their transparency with Occupy Denver protesters ("given warning"), the reputation of the local police department ("every confidence") and criticism for Hickenlooper's delayed reaction to the protest.
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"They've been told to leave every single day in a different way," Hickenlooper says. In direct response to questions suggesting he has been slow in responding to the growing campsite, his answer was sarcastic: "They have stronger criticism than that."
Hickenlooper toured the Occupy Denver camp for the first time this morning, and though the three later spoke only a block away from the protest's outpost near the Capitol building, they concentrated specifically on the dangers and legality issues it presents. At the moment, the specific timeline and details remain slightly unclear: "That kind of negotiation info is best kept between us and them," Hickenlooper says.
When the meeting concluded...
...the protesters farther down on Broadway were not yet aware of its impact on them. It took the group only forty minutes to update its Facebook once they found out, however: "Hickenlooper has voted that we are no longer allowed to camp. We could use some support on the ground right now. Help us stay strong, peaceful, and stand in solidarity! Strength in numbers!" (One comment on the message already hints at "ways around that," less than an hour after the announcement.)
This latest response comes only one day after Occupy Denver gathered to present a letter to Hickenlooper to stress that they continue to be allowed to camp. "If you are truly concerned about the precedent set by our occupation, we invite you to work with us to create a Colorado in which tent cities are no longer a necessity," the letter reads.
Lest the officials' most recent decision come across as unsympathetic, Hancock repeatedly stressed that public safety was the priority, not any ideological disagreement with the movement.
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"The bottom line is this: There is pain everywhere," Hancock says. "People don't have jobs. I know someone who hasn't had a job for three years. I had a friend call me yesterday who's about to be thrown out of his house. We're just requesting protesters disperse lawfully and peaceably at night in order to avoid confrontation."
Here's the aforementioned Colorado State Patrol notice:
More from our Videos archive: "Occupy Denver video collection chronicles ongoing protests."