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Occupy Durham protestors disallowed to tent downtown

A group of approximately 75 protestors gathered in downtown Durham with the intention to camp out, but city officials disallowed it.
A group of approximately 75 protestors gathered in downtown Durham with the intention to camp out, but city officials disallowed it.

Protestors with Occupy Durham were told to cease camping out at the CCB Plaza in downtown Durham Monday.

City officials informed approximately 75 participants with Occupy Durham—the Bull City branch of Occupy Wall Street—that they were not allowed to set up tents without first obtaining a permit. Individuals who failed to remove their tents by 5 p.m. would be considered trespassers, according to an Oct. 17 notice by Durham City Manager Thomas Bonfield. The protestors readily complied and removed approximately six tents by 5 p.m. from the premises but continued to inhabit the CCB Plaza.

“The original plan was to stage an encampment indefinitely, but at about 4 p.m. [Monday], we were told we had to remove our tents or the city would forcefully remove them for us by 5 p.m.,” said Jillian Johnson, Occupy Durham group organizer and creator of its Facebook page. “Police were brought not as a police measure but to protect the city officials.”

Officials from the Durham Police Department noted that although the group was compliant, they were in violation of a city ordinance. They also noted that many members of DPD were not fully aware of the situation and were simply following orders.

The organization, which serves to protest the wealth gap in the United States, had previously researched the legal ramifications of camping out in the square and determined that there were no laws prohibiting such activity, said Monica Ganguly, facilitator of Occupy Durham’s general assembly meeting held in the plaza Monday night.

City officials interfered because of a parks and recreation policy, not a law or ordinance, Ganguly added.

“They said they did not want to impede on our message but did not want to set a precedent,” she said. “That pretty much means they do not want to risk homeless people camping out in the square or making it easier for political groups like us to protest.”

Approximately 15 members of the group camped out in the plaza Sunday night in tents, Occupy Durham member Gatlin Rowe said. A police officer drove by and asked the group to remove their tents. When the members of the group refused and questioned the officer’s reasoning, the police officer left the protestors alone, Rowe added.

“Throughout this situation and in general, we as a group strongly believe in non-violence and want our actions to be peaceful,” Johnson said. “We are just looking for more clarity on what we can and can’t do.”

The group is beginning the process of applying for a permit but the procedure takes 15 days, Ganguly noted. Monday’s change in events may lead to a new location for the occupation.

Members of the organization went to the Durham City Council meeting Monday night to request placement on the agenda, Johnson added. They did not arrive in time to be added to the agenda, but they were invited to the floor to speak about the issue.

Occupy Durham protestor Summer Puente, Trinity ’11, said the group was not successful in obtaining permission to camp out during the city council meeting. The group spoke with the city attorney following the meeting and will communicate with officials about issuing a permit in the future.

The organization held a general assembly meeting Monday to evaluate the new circumstances, Johnson said. At the meeting, the group collectively debated whether or not they would, as a representative group, choose to sleep in the plaza despite being asked to take down their tents. Following three hours of debate, the members voted to continue the occupy the plaza during the day only—until further discussion.

“We don’t know whether or not we are going to be challenging this policy,” Ganguly said. “We are a big group, and we have a lot of other issues to hash out, but we will not let this break our momentum.”

James Lee contributed reporting.

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