State Official: Police Can't 'Baby-Sit' Protesters - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

State Official: Police Can't 'Baby-Sit' Protesters

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee state troopers cleared out Wall Street protesters from the state Capitol grounds early Friday because they didn't have the resources to "babysit" the overnight encampment, the state's safety commissioner said.

Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Republican Governor Bill Haslam's office approved the pre-dawn roundup of protesters for refusing to comply with a new overnight curfew and permit requirements.

Seventy five troopers began moving around 3 a.m. using a newly enacted state policy that set a curfew for the grounds near the state Capitol, including Legislative Plaza where the protesters had been staying in tents since October 7.

Troopers gave the protesters 10 minutes to leave peacefully. Approximately two dozen protesters left the Plaza, but others formed a semi-circle facing outwards with their arms locked. Once the 10 minutes was up, state troopers came in and placed plastic cuffs on those that stayed and were forced to drag them off the property.

Tennessee State Troopers set up a perimeter around Legislative Plaza to block the entrance, but left just before 6 a.m. - when the curfew ended. Several protesters remained outside the entrance to the plaza throughout the morning.

Twenty-nine people were arrested, but a night judge refused to sign their warrants because the policy had only been in effect since the previous afternoon.

They were instead issued misdemeanor citations and released about six hours after they were arrested.

Gibbons said the policies were changed in response to  deteriorating sanitary and security concerns about the protest. Members of the Occupy Nashville group had asked for enhanced protection that the state was unable to provide, he said.

 "We don't have the resources to go out and in effect babysit protesters 24-7 ... at the level that would have been necessary to address their concerns," Gibbon said.

It is unclear how the overnight curfew will be enforced against pedestrians who frequently cut through the area after leaving nearby performing arts and concert venues.

"That's a good very question," Gibbons said. "And we're going to take a reasonable approach on that: Was a person knowingly and intentionally violating the curfew, or was that person just unaware of it?"

Night Court Commissioner Tom Nelson said in court that the state didn't give the protesters the opportunity to comply with the new curfew.

Gibbons disagreed: "The judicial magistrate is obviously entitled to his opinion. I think it was adequate notice."

The arrests were made about 12 hours after the state announced the new policy and erected signs around the plaza about it. Gibbons said the early morning was the least disruptive time to citizens who visit, work, and live in downtown Nashville.

Protester Adam Knight, an eighth-grade English teacher from Nashville, was among those arrested. If anything, he said the arrests galvanized the group.

"I think it was a great first step," said Knight, 27. "We showed solidarity. I think it's going to gain momentum."

He said the group planned a march later Friday and would likely assemble again on the steps of the plaza, which could mean more arrests. When asked how long the group would protest, Knight responded: "As long as it has to."

Occupy Nashville said they will hold a General Assembly meeting on the steps of Legislative Plaza at 7 p.m. Friday.

Bill Howell, a lobbyist for Tennesseans for Fair Taxation who was among the 18 men and 11 women arrested, agreed.

"It's just completely outrageous that the state would make new rules and enforce them in less than 24 hours after they were cooked up," said Howell, 64.

The protesters said they were warned, but said they would not leave. They said they would face arrests with "no hostility whatsoever," wanting to avoid a repeat of Oakland, California, where an Iraq war veteran suffered a fractured skull in a scuffle with police, and in Atlanta where SWAT teams arrested protesters.

The state's new rules specifically ban "overnight occupancy" at the public space and require permits and use fees for rallies.

By consensus, the members of Occupy Nashville decided they would not apply for a state permit to congregate on Legislative Plaza.

The Department of General Services announced Thursday that the Capitol grounds, the War Memorial Courtyard and the Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville will be closed to those without specific permission each night between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The policy also makes no specific exemptions from the curfew, which House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville described as an overreaction by the Republican governor.

"I'm stunned that he's done that, to be honest with you," Turner said. "We've had a history of people having pretty much a free reign down there."

Turner noted that there was no similar response when anti-income tax protests of a decade ago escalated into a rock being thrown through the governor's window and demonstrators pounding on the doors of legislative chambers while lawmakers were working inside.

Police last removed protesters from the legislative office complex in March, when people were arrested for disrupting a Senate Commerce Committee meeting and resisting arrest. They were later acquitted.

Haslam said at the time that he supports the right to protest, but that he agrees with removing demonstrators from government buildings if they disrupt official business.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)

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