As protesters demonstrating against Wall Street corporate power geared up for Friday’s “occupation” of the Hennepin County Government Center plaza, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office laid down some ground rules:
While sleeping on the plaza will be permitted, no tents or canopies will be allowed.
Alcohol and drugs will be barred from the plaza and campfires and barbecues will be prohibited.
Portable toilets will be made available on nearby sidewalks, bike racks will be provided, but the no-smoking policy on the plaza will stay in place. People will be able to smoke on the sidewalk.
Diana Turner, one of the protest organizers, said she was hopeful that if protesters abided by the rules and continued working with county and city officials, “there might be some leverage to do some renegotiating” regarding the tents.
A Minneapolis city ordinance restricts the use of tents on public property. It remains somewhat discretionary, however. Homeless protesters erected tents in past demonstrations on the plaza and tents have been permitted for other public events elsewhere in Minneapolis including circuses Large canopies were erected for an invitation-only welcoming gathering on the Minneapolis riverfront on the eve of the Republican National Convention in 2008.
Turner said the issue of whether to honor the prohibition of tents wil be discussed at a "general assembly" of all the protesters to take place at 7 p.m. on the plaza Friday night. She said that the protesters will be made aware of the consequences of erecting a tent, including arrests.
The OccupyMN protest is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Friday and organizers say it could continue indefinitely.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said Thursday he had discussed the organizers’ request for tents with the county commissioners and the board set out the guidelines that he passed along to the protesters when he met with several representatives on Thursday.
“We told them arrest is the last option,” Stanek said. “We want to help them have a peaceful demonstration. If they put up a tent, we are going to kindly remind them of the ordinance and ask them to dismantle it. They asked if they want to designate people for arrest, how do we do that. We told them we prefer not to make arrests.”
Stanek said he was surprised by that question, because it had not come up in the previous day's meeting. He said his staff agreed to meet with the protest group’s appointed representatives daily and described Thursday’s discussion as a “cordial meeting” He said the protesters were served coffee, doughnuts, soda and water.
He once again describe the protest representatives as “nice people."
After meeting with the sheriff’s office, the protest organizers were introduced to Minneapolis Police First Precinct Inspector Kris Arneson and Dave Indrehus, chief of the Metro Transit Police. Indrehus wanted assurances that the trains at the Government Plaza light rail station will not be blocked or obstructed.
Stanek said that there will be a “unified incident command structure” involving the sheriff’s office and the Minneapolis police, which is common where several law enforcement agencies must collaborate. Thhe sheriff’s office has jurisdiction on the plaza and will have several deputies present, and the Minneapolis police will have jurisdiction off the plaza, Stanek said.
Turner, the protest representative, said the group organizing the occupation was strongly encouraging everyone who comes to the plaza “to take our orientation (session), learn what our expectations are and follow the process.” That will include laying out a “code of conduct” to protesters and “how to deal with police." A welcome table will be set up for people to sign in and workshops will be held Friday afternoon.
Turner said there were reports of incidents of police brutality in demonstrations in New York and on the West Coast Wednesday night, but said, “I am confident at this moment that this will not happen here, as long as we abide by our best efforts to demonstrate peacefully and non-violently. No authorities are interested in violating our First Amendment rights of free speech and right to assembly.”
The protesters are being held in solidarity with demonstrators who have converged on Wall Street in New York City in recent weeks, along with protests in other cities, which have focused on what the activists believe to be the expansion of corporate power at the expense of the majority of the population.