Members of Occupy Chattanooga listen as Captain Roddy of Chattanooga Law Enforcement addresses them in front of the Hamilton County Court on Tuesday night. Roddy tried to keep the mood light with a few jokes and even returned a high five of one of the protesters.
Occupy Chattanooga, after hours of deliberation and meetings with city and police officials, decided not to get arrested — at least for now.
Members of the protest group made the decision Tuesday night to begin legally occupying the sidewalks surrounding the Hamilton County Courthouse instead of the original plan to camp in Ross’s Landing.
Prior to Occupy Chattanooga’s decision, Police Chief Bobby Dodd had said he would arrest anyone in Ross’s Landing after the city’s 10:30 p.m. curfew.
Angela Rich argued that Occupy Chattanooga, unlike other movements, couldn’t risk breaking the law because its numbers are so small.
“They actually could arrest all of us,” she said Tuesday. “I think that if we were 1,000 people, moving forward would be easier.”
On Tuesday evening, about 100 members of Occupy Chattanooga attended the Chattanooga City Council meeting, asking for permission to occupy Ross’s Landing. Three representatives from the group explained, however, that even without permission, they planned on occupying the park that night.
Later, while meeting with Occupy Chattanooga members in Miller Park, Dodd explained that the plan to occupy Ross’s Landing violated city ordinance but standing on a sidewalk doesn’t, as long as they don’t impede traffic or sleep on the sidewalks.
Dodd said that, outside of a demand to legalize marijuana, he thought he agreed with all of the group’s demands, but he must uphold the law.
“I just can’t allow you to selectively break the law,” he told Occupy Chattanooga members.
Group members said they’ll go along with current plan for a while.
“I say, we give [the city] a week and then we can see if we can do it legitimately or not,” Baris Gursakal said. “But it looks like some of us are going to have to get arrested.”
During the council meeting and before the occupiers even spoke, Councilwoman Sally Robinson told them the council created a curfew in 2007 to combat violence in city parks. The ordinance allows people to be in the parks from sunrise until 10:30 p.m.
“Please do occupy,” she said, “but please come in the morning, stay all day long, protest, make your points known. But please, by 10:30 at night, please uphold the law we have on the books.”
City Attorney Mike McMahan said sleeping in city parks is not considered a First Amendment right.
“Some of you said you’d like to follow the law,” he said. “We’d ask you to do so.”
Members of Occupy Chattanooga then stepped up to the lectern to voice their opinions.
“[The occupy movement] is not your normal, run-of-the-mill protest,” said Teletha McJunkin, one of the three speakers for the group. “It is much, much bigger.”
The group also talked about occupying private property, such as a downtown parking lot. The main reason they wanted to choose a place to occupy, member Sam Mills said, was to give the group time to meet throughout the day, when they could accomplish more.
While the group stays outside on the sidewalk, the members said they will continue to work toward changing the system that bars them from meeting at public parks.
Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...