Hennepin County said Occupy Minnesota will be barred from sleeping overnight on the Government Center plaza if wintry conditions are forecast.
Hundreds gathered Friday, Oct. 7, 2011 in Minneapolis, at the Hennepin County Government Center plaza to show solidarity with the nationwide Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, organized to decry corporate greed and the gap between the rich and poor.
A week after saying there were no plans to remove Occupy Minnesota protesters, Hennepin County officials said Wednesday they will bar demonstrators from sleeping overnight on the Government Center plaza with the first prediction of snowfall or temperatures below 25 degrees.
The county also said it will require anti-Wall Street protesters to move their property to one side of the plaza starting Friday, when the county plans to start winterizing the plaza by draining water from sprinkler heads.
The announcement drew criticism from protesters, who have been staging a four-week occupation of the plaza. Some said the county's plans violated their constitutional rights and might lead to confrontations with authorities. But one protest organizer said that he believed the county's requests were reasonable and that he hoped any confrontations would remain peaceful.
Efforts by authorities in other cities to expel anti-Wall Street protesters from occupation sites have led to arrests and have injured some protesters.
Last week, Hennepin County Administrator Richard Johnson said that aside from requiring demonstrators to consolidate their presence, there were no plans to clear them out. On Wednesday, however, Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat said he helped develop the rules issued by Johnson in a two-page memo.
Opat said the county had fielded growing complaints that Occupy Minnesota was using the entire plaza, displacing anyone else who wanted to sit there. He said the county was also concerned about reports by some protesters of having suffered thefts or minor assaults from other protesters.
Opat said the county also needs access to the plaza to conduct snow removal. Under the new rules, sleeping on the grounds will be forbidden between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., once snow or significant cold is forecast.
Asked whether he was concerned about possible confrontations, Opat said, "We hope there are not, but we don't want anybody to die of exposure or suffer hypothermia while camping on our property." The county has barred protesters from using tents.
The county's requests are "reasonable" although not feasible for homeless protesters, said Osha Karow, one of the organizers of OccupyMN.
"I can't say whether everybody will comply," he said. "There has been talk about finding an inside space, and talk about moving the occupation."
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224