After so-called “Occupy Chattanooga” protests did costly damage to the lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse over a period of more than four months, the county finally had more than a dozen protesters’ tents and belongings removed Monday to a nearby sidewalk.
It was overdue.
Grass has been damaged on the lawn, which was never intended as a campground. Mud has taken the place of the grass in some areas.
“You’re probably talking about in the thousands-of-dollars range to redo it all and get it back like it used to be,” Commissioner Chester Bankston told the Free Press editorial page in January.
“Occupy” protesters around the country portray their removal as a violation of First Amendment rights. But the First Amendment has never been an absolute right. Reasonable time, place and manner restrictions have routinely been placed on the right to assemble.
There is nothing reasonable about commandeering public space through “occupation.” If anything, the county was amazingly patient through the tiresome, extended encampment on the courthouse lawn. Many other cities around the country evicted their “Occupy” protesters from public property far sooner.
“I think we’ve been very lenient here in Hamilton County,” said Commission Chairman Larry Henry. “They’ve been on our county property for five months.”
There is nothing to stop the protesters from continuing their vague “anti-greed” demonstrations at locations throughout the county, but expecting them to do so in ways that do not burden taxpayers is more than fair.