On October 17, 2011, the Charlottesville City Council unanimously voiced their political kinship with Occupy Charlottesville (OC) and effectively tossed sensible ordinances out the window of City Hall. In cooperation with City Manager Maurice Jones and Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly, this is what has happened as of November 8, 2011:
- Mr. Jones gave a verbal directive to city police to refrain from enforcing the curfew law in Lee Park before OC had applied for its permit.
- Councilor Kristin Szakos queried at the October 17 City Council meeting; “Is there a port-a-potty at Lee Park? Is that something we would be willing to provide or find a source for?” Of course, the “we” footing the bill would be city taxpayers for a rental fee and/or staff salaried time to search for a source.
- The $25.00 application fee and subsequent re-application fees were waived.
- An unprecedented 30-day permit extension without the need to re-file was granted.
- OC has been allowed to serve meals to the public without the required Temporary Food Permit. There is no standard for food safety (adequate refrigeration, storage, sanitary conditions).
- The required $1 million liability insurance policy was not provided by OC and they have been inhabiting the park for over two weeks without coverage. Will city taxpayers be liable for damages if someone brings a successful lawsuit against the City?
- OC has had fires burning in Lee Park with no fire extinguisher or water hose available nearby in case of emergency, but only one or two gallon-sized plastic jugs of water. Curiously, the Albemarle County Historical Society’s request to have a fire as part of its annual Spirit Walk has been denied every year since 2006.
- There have been multiple disturbances and arrests — including an incident on November 1 involving three homeless men and two juvenile girls in their company that were heavily intoxicated (the minors were transported to UVA hospital for treatment and observation), and an incident on November 5 where another homeless man was arrested and charged with attempted arson after pouring lighter fluid on a tent following a fight.
- Police discovered a shanty structure built in violation of the terms of the permit.
- A “Camp Needs” sign posted in the encampment contained a requested donation of 100 ‘rape whistles’. As reported by Reuters, OC organizer Zac Fabian stated that some females expressed concern for their safety due to the camp’s open nature. Fabian said; “Safety is an issue at night when we have every drunk person in the area strolling by and threatening to start fights or burn down tents. We’re worried that it could turn into something more serious.”
And so is the Jefferson Area Tea Party.
And so should all citizens who know that once the Rule of Law is trampled, conditions quickly deteriorate and the safety of everyone is put in jeopardy. The police department has been put in an impossible situation wherein they have no reliable way of identifying Occupiers by sight from others who are not in the park as part of the protest. How are they supposed to do their job to keep everyone safe and be fair at the same time? And will Maurice Jones choose again at some point to issue another non-emergency directive to the police?
The JATP rebukes the politically single-minded City Council for creating an unsafe situation for the purpose of indulging its professed political agenda.
The activists of Occupy Charlottesville are entitled to their right of free speech – but that right does not include suspension of ordinances and public safety measures to enable their specific style of demonstration. In our opinion, City Council’s actions exemplify political favoritism and irresponsible governance.