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Occupy Minnesota protesters camped last year in the Government Center plaza in Minneapolis.

Star Tribune file,

Mpls. considers restricting plazas

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER
  • Star Tribune
  • May 3, 2012 - 12:01 AM

The Occupy movement and local business leaders squared off at a City Hall hearing Wednesday over a controversial measure to ban overnight activity in Minneapolis' public plazas.

The resolution, which bars loitering and sleeping in public plazas between midnight and 6 a.m., was sponsored by Council President Barb Johnson after confrontations last month between police and Occupy activists at Peavey Plaza on Nicollet Mall. The council's public safety committee took testimony Wednesday afternoon, but delayed a vote because Johnson and committee chair Don Samuels were unable to attend.

Nick Espinosa, one of the most vocal members of the local Occupy movement, summed up the overarching theme of the extended testimony from opponents of the measure.

"What we feel when we see these sort of resolutions is that this is an attack not just on our right to camp or to sleep on the plaza, but it's an attack on our right to assemble," Espinosa said. "And it's an attack on the values that the Occupy movement holds."

Supporters of the measure at Wednesday's hearing included Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski and Target Executive Vice President John Griffith. Grabarski said overnight camping in public spaces is dangerous, citing a recent report of a sexual assault in Peavey Plaza.

"Uncertainty about how the Minneapolis City Council will respond to safety and to protests is taking its toll already on the summer events the Downtown Council holds at Peavey Plaza," Grabarski said. "Some sponsors have already left the June season presuming that order will not be maintained there."

The four council members at Wednesday's hearing reached no consensus on the measure.

"As a citizen and as someone who's been elected I have a lot of questions about what are the implications of this for the First Amendment," said Betsy Hodges, an opponent of the resolution.

Council Member Meg Tuthill, who said she was playing "devil's advocate," noted that the city already bars use of public parks after 10 p.m. "If we did a similar restriction on our plazas, it would be the same kind of continuity," Tuthill said. "This is an extremely tough issue for us."

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732; Twitter: @StribRoper

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