All citizens have a right to have their voices heard, and I, like the Occupy movement, am concerned about the causes and impacts of the most serious economic downturn in decades. This movement is important because our city, our state, our nation need to do much more to address the jobs and foreclosure crises which are crushing hope and opportunity for the 99% of us.
Here in Providence, the protesters who have camped in Burnside Park since October 15 have conducted themselves peacefully, and the city has had ongoing and respectful dialogue with the group. I commend Occupy Providence for its commitment to nonviolence, and I thank Occupy Providence for publicly recognizing the city’s efforts to ensure their right to assemble and demonstrate.
Unlike many other American cities, Providence is taking a nonviolent approach to the occupation of Burnside Park that has resulted in no arrests and the continued freedom to protest with the full support and cooperation of public safety.
The Commissioner has regularly met with protest organizers and sought open and honest communication about all public safety issues. He has waived multiple requirements and accommodated every public protest and march to date.
However, permanent occupation of the park is unsafe and unwise for compelling reasons both practical and legal. Emergency medical personnel have responded to instances involving drug overdose and fighting. Public safety officials have identified Level 3 sex offenders among those occupying the park. As the weather gets colder, Occupy protesters in other cities have been taken to the hospital with hypothermia.
Yet, Commissioner Pare and I have not taken police action. Instead, in the near future, we will petition the Courts for a ruling on the viability and constitutionality of this encampment. This will allow the protesters to have their day in Court and for a full public, legal vetting of the issues.
Accordingly, we have issued a notice asking the protestors to vacate Burnside Park by Sunday, October 30. We have made clear that protestors are welcome to return to the park everyday during park hours of 7 am to 9 pm. If protestors do not vacate Burnside Park on Sunday, the City will NOT follow the actions of other cities like Atlanta, Chicago or Oakland that have resulted in arrests and violence. Instead, the Courts will consider the merits of this issue over the next few weeks.
The City agrees with the ACLU, which has said that United States Supreme Court precedent “significantly limits” the right to camp out indefinitely in Burnside Park without a permit. In addition, like the ACLU, the city “fully supports the right of Occupy Providence to engage in other forms of peaceful protest at the park or elsewhere in the city.”
I appreciate and share many of the global concerns that the Occupy movement seeks to address. And it is for this reason that I have used civil, nonviolent means to address the future of the encampment.
Together, as one Providence, we can make real progress towards our shared vision for a more just and equitable society: strengthening our schools, creating good jobs, developing safe and affordable housing and leading an open and transparent government.