October 9, 4:31 PM click here to comment > 53
Update on Occupy Seattle – Oct. 9
As the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Seattle protests continue, I wanted to take a moment to again state my position and approach.
I support the overall aims and goals of the movement because I am deeply concerned about the effect of growing inequality on people, our economy and our democracy. This concern is a core part of my budget and policy decisions as Mayor.
I respect the desire by Occupy Seattle participants to create a forum for the public to express their viewpoints. They are passionate, and I respect their passion.
We have set out conditions for the extended use of Westlake Park, that are based on rules that have been used for many years and for many different events. The conditions for this event include allowing an organizing tent to be maintained at Westlake for things like first aid and information sharing. A summary of what is and is not permitted is at www.seattle.gov/occupyseattle and has been distributed by Park Rangers.
We have also invited participants to use City Hall Plaza as a safe place to pitch tents and camp overnight. We worked to accommodate yesterday’s march, and we will work to accommodate future marches and other peaceful free speech activities. I believe we have created the conditions that support the goals of Occupy Seattle to maintain a sustained presence to express their views, while respecting other public rights and values.
The vast majority of those attending Occupy Seattle events only wish to lawfully express their views. But we know from our experiences in WTO, and experiences elsewhere, that large scale protests can attract small but determined groups who deliberately choose tactics of confrontation and violence. I am determined to ensure that this does not mar an otherwise appropriate use of public spaces for free speech. That means there will be a police presence in Westlake Park, focused not on speech, but on unlawful behavior and maintaining the peace.
Another public value is protection of access to public spaces. Our conditions for use of Westlake are designed to allow access to businesses and park space for other users. Over the coming weeks, there are multiple organizations that have sought and received permits to use Westlake Park, businesses line the square, and there are numerous others who use the park daily. For these reasons, Westlake Park is simply not suitable for camping. From the first day we expressed this to Occupy Seattle and had to reluctantly remove noncompliant tents while making City Hall available.
This balancing of free speech rights with the protection of public safety and public uses means we will continually have friction points. The days are long, people are passionate, our police are human as well. We have been, and will continue, to do our best to resolve the tension points in a non-provocative way.
For example, SPD granted permits on the fly for the Saturday evening march, and provided traffic control. When protesters occupied the street, they took multiple hours to peacefully disband protesters blocking the intersection, ultimately only arresting two who adamantly refused to comply.
Reports have recently centered on honking, and umbrellas. SPD did ticket drivers who were honking after 10 pm. People live next to Westlake Park and SPD was enforcing the noise ordinance. In response, I understand protestors themselves starting holding up signs saying “Do not honk!” as a way of respecting the rights of nearby residents.
As for umbrellas, police were concerned that protest participants were using umbrellas and tarps to create makeshift tents to evade the no-camping rule. But no one has been ticketed or prohibited from using an umbrella at Westlake. They remain (and hopefully always will remain) legal in Seattle.
The city does feel strongly about camping at Westlake. Some have argued that the justness of the cause means we should look the other way and ignore the city’s no-camping rules at Westlake. But when it comes to free speech, government does not get to do that. We are not allowed to favor one type of speech over another. That is anathema to the Constitution. If we permit camping at Westlake for one group, no matter how worthy the cause, we will be obligated to permit camping at Westlake for any group that wishes to do so as a form of speech. That is simply not an appropriate use for Westlake. This is why we have made City Hall, a civic building that is a locus of political speech, available for camping. Anyone who wants to stay warm and dry can do so at City Hall plaza.
That we are discussing honking, tents and umbrellas is in some way a sign of success. Yes, there have been disagreements, but they are modest in scale. I am proud of both the event participants and the police. In a largely spontaneous and peaceful way hundreds have gathered to passionately express their concerns. And police have acted with extraordinary professionalism and restraint when enforcing the rules.
I wish the organizers of Occupy Seattle success in getting out their message. The City stands ready to provide the conditions for them to do so, as we also stand ready to protect public safety and fair use of public property for all.
Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn