SLEEPS press release:
GSA and DHS intend to prosecute SLEEPS protestors who remain after 11:00 PM tonightOn December 10 charges against Emily Semple were dismissed by the federal government “in the interest of justice”. In July Semple had defied an order, which she considered unlawful, to stop protesting and depart the Federal Plaza at 7th and Pearl. Today GSA and DHS have put Semple and other protestors on notice that anyone staying to protest after 11PM tonight will be arrested…..for the same charges that the government recently dismissed “in the interest of justice”.What has changed about “justice” in the last two weeks?SLEEPS was advised this morning that anyone remaining to protest after 11PM at the Federal Plaza this evening will be charged with trespass and arrested. SLEEPS, through its affiliate OCCUPY and two individual protestors, currently have filed a complaint with GSA over an earlier ouster of the groups. Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center filed an Injunction and an emergency Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) over the first eviction. On Friday Judge Ann Aiken denied the emergency TRO. The government is required to file a response to the Injunction by January 2 with a response from plaintiffs due January 16.Judge Aiken’s stated reason for denying the emergency TRO while awaiting appropriate filings on the longer Injunction was that there is no “emergency” as there are sufficient other places for protestors to protest. SLEEPS asks, where?SLEEPS protestors have now been denied the right to protest 8 times in the past few weeks: three times at the Lane County owned Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza; once at City Hall’s parking lot (City Hall is chain link fenced in and Free Speech Plaza is on the property housing the Mayor and Council offices and meeting space); twice at Federal Plaza; once at the New Wayne Morse Federal Courthouse and once at the city owned Community Gardens. Historically, City Hall, the Federal Plaza and Free Speech Plaza have been “the” sites for free speech, the traditional public forums of Eugene. Alll have weathered overnight protests. Why is SLEEPS being denied the right to protest? Is it because all of the protestors remaining 24/7 are unhoused people? Are they being discriminated against on the basis of socio-economic prejudices? Why is JUST THIS GROUP required to get a permit while others are allowed to protest without being instructed to get one?The mere requirement of a permit is unconstitutional. The County and Federal Governments require that a permit be filed 48 hours in advance in order to protest against the government. Even when permitted, they require that protestors leave at either 5PM or 11PM and protest only on weekdays, depending on the site. Article I Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution specifically forbids the government to “restrict” or “restrain” free speech. Saying protest hours are restricted to before a certain time is a clear “restriction” and thus unconstitutional. The idea of filing two days in advance to ask the government for permission to protest against it is such an flagrant restraint it hardly bears further discussion.This level of free speech obstruction is frightening.Another serious question concerns Department of Homeland Services (DHS) and Eugene Police Deparmtnet (EPD). They are both aware that a judge appeared to be about to rule against GSA on the Semple case. Since the government, sensing defeat, dismissed the charges against Semple “in the interest of justice”, DHS had declined making further arrests of SLEEPS protestors who have remained in defiance of GSA’s policies for the same charges as the Semple case. Our understanding is that to do otherwise would be to knowingly obey an unlawful order. Why is DHS now willing to risk obeying what they think is an unlawful order? Why has EPD been willing to issue orders that the courts have indicated may be unlawful?Why have Eugene’s three traditional protest sites, City Hall, Free Speech Plaza and the Federal Plaza all been shut down to SLEEPS? Who will they shut down next?The right to protest is fundamental to a democracy. As JFK once noted, once you take away a people’s right to protest, all that is left is revolution. The unhoused in this community continue to be denied shelter, continue to be prosecuted on ludicrous charges such as “theft of services” for plugging in a cell phone or “criminal trespass 2” for leaning against a building while standing on a public sidewalk. They have many good reasons to protest. As JFK said, quashing protests leaves few options to those with grievances. The conduct of the federal, county and city officials should be of concern to all citizens.