MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Anti-Wall Street protesters in Minneapolis defied a judge’s order Wednesday and began pitching tents on the plaza outside the Hennepin County Government Center.
Demonstrators rushed in to start setting up tents in front of speakers at an evening rally where protesters chanted, “We are the 99 percent.” Others gathered around the tents in a tight circle.
By 7:30 p.m., protesters had pitched about 30 tents as a crowd of about 200 milled about in the chilly air. Signs reading, “Arm the Poor,” ”Money for Jobs, Not War” and “Sleeping Is Not a Crime” marked some of the tents.
About a dozen sheriff’s deputies and county security officers stood on the outskirts of the encampment, some videotaping the scene but did not immediately move in.
The protesters announced their plans in advance, saying they would set up “99 tents for the 99 percent.” That’s a reference to slogans suggesting that 1 percent of the nation’s population controls the wealth while the other 99 percent suffers the consequences.
Charles Geller, 19, of Minneapolis said he planned to spend the night in his roomy tent because he cares for others.
“I care about the world, and I don’t like CEOs who make 350 times the average worker,” Geller said.
Another demonstrator, Steff Yorek, said she planned to stay the night to exercise her rights to protest and peacefully assemble.
“The laws against camping in public really are aimed at the homeless. I’m here in my tent speaking out on the issue of homelessness and foreclosures,” Yorek said.
Some of the protesters sued Hennepin County officials last week, saying the ban on tents and other restrictions violate their constitutional rights.
The protesters asked a federal judge to issue an order barring officials from enforcing the county’s rules against using tents, but Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle denied that request and ruled the county has the right to restrict tents and sleeping on the downtown plaza.
Citing case law, Kyle wrote: “Public parks are certainly quintessential public forums where free speech is protected, but the Constitution neither provides, nor has it ever been construed to mandate, that any person or group be allowed to erect structures at will.”
Kyle also ordered both sides into settlement talks.
Authorities said from the start that protesters could not have tents because they posed a risk to public safety. In the early days of the demonstration, some protesters tried to circumvent the rule by creating transparent structures: sheriff’s deputies tore them down in the middle of the night, but made no arrests.
The Minneapolis protest has at times drawn hundreds of people to some events, but a much smaller number has been spending the night. As of Monday, there have been just over two dozen arrests in Minneapolis since the protest began Oct. 7.