An update from the Monroe Park Occupation back in March, where several individuals were charged with violating a City Code regarding being in parks after dark. Three members of the Wingnut Anarchist Collective are appealing their verdicts of guilty, and are challenging that piece of City Code based on it being unconstitutional. Arguments in this appeal were finally presented on Thursday, November 3rd, after multiple continuances over the months. Occupiers have court again on Monday, November 21st at 9am at the John Marshall Court Building in room 302 for the disposition. Supporters are welcome to attend.

For background information on the Monroe Park Occupation of March, 2011 you can go to: http://www.monroeparkoccupation.wordpress.com

Here is an account from one of the folks involved:

The morning started out rather frantic. I woke up and rolled out of bed, my mind churning with thoughts, my stomach twisting in anticipation. The day I had been anticipating ever since I last squared off with my archnemesis, the loathsome Christopher Toepp. Words can not express my utter contempt for this vile pond scum who has infected our gracious city with his insidious presence. No, wait, I shouldn’t say that, pond scum is too good to be associated with the likes of him. The Commonwealth’s Attorney who has made it his personal crusade to champion fascism, to goose step all over freedom, to piss on the fires of liberation wherever he finds them smoldering in the hearts of the down-trodden and oppressed. Whether he’s ripping the Constitution to pieces or trying to pin ludicrous charges on innocent activists with no evidence this man has no problem manipulating a corrupt and broken judicial system in an attempt to destroy everything that is right and good in this world.

I only had a few hours to prepare for this battle and I knew if I was to have any hope of survival my wits would have to be razor-sharp and I had to have my thoughts in order. The odds were stacked against us. None of our group has any legal experience, we knew that they had the advantage of fighting us in their home terrain. Court procedures and legal terms are the province of their lands, a land which seems foreign and strange to us. A land where an archaic language based on dead tongues and centuries of antiquated  jurisprudence reign supreme. There is no respect for the kind of organic interpersonal communication and connection that we thrive and grow on, here rhetoric and carefully structured arguments are the only thing that matter. I stocked up on energy drinks and brought my highlighter to bear as I reread the court cases I have read over and over again over the past few months. Trying to sift through the lengthy opinions of so-called Justices who dedicate their lives to passing final judgement on people who they don’t even know, it is not an easy task trying to translate and comprehend their tangled webs of legal jargon. I had managed to find a few cases that provided us a solid shield against the venomous fangs of that detestable man, Christopher Toepp. The case of Shuttlesworth v. the City of Birmingham, a shimmering gem of hope buried deep in a quagmire of court decisions that have chipped away at our liberties over the years. In the case the court for once defended the Constitution and stated quite clearly that city ordinances do not have the authority to rob us of our natural liberties. They stated quite clearly that city governments do not have the authority to write vague laws to restrict our ability to speak freely and that the power to limit speech can not be vested in a single authority with no guidelines or chance for appeal. It even goes a step further and states quite clearly that when people are faced with such unconstitutional and illegitimate laws that they may disregard them entirely and express themselves freely, for no governing authority has the right to strip us of our thoughts and beliefs.

To understand this monumental court case you must understand the time and place which it arose from. It was in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, a state which had become infested to its core with virulent racism. Terrorists rode through the dark of night wearing white hoods and carrying burning crosses, savage cops viciously beat down anyone who so much as questioned the racist regime that rigidly created rifts and divides throughout society. The government weighed heavily on the shoulders of the people, and their backs were breaking under its weight. Whispers of liberation were echoing through the minds of oppressed people everywhere and those holding the reigns of power knew that if something did not give the people would rise up and burn the leeches who had been draining them for so long. There was no doubt whose pocket the city government of Birmingham was in, the descendants of those slave owning bastards were desperately clinging to what authority they could still hold over people. To them there was nothing more frightening than people of color taking to the streets, to voicing their discontent, to screaming their dissent at the many injustices that had been pushed upon them. The city of Birmingham consistently refused to permit any protest of their racist system, they tried to deny people the ability to be heard or seen amassing together in public places. The people denied their authority though, they took to the streets despite the cities multiple attempts to silence them by denying permits, but what authority does any governing body have to not permit people from voicing their anger? The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Shuttlesworth in that case, because they knew if they continued to silence the people it would lead to a violent resistance to the injustices being heaped upon them.

It makes me wonder, why is the city of Richmond so scared of the people voicing their discontent? Why do they fear their horrendous treatment of the poor and homeless people coming to public light? They can build bigger jails and more cells to try to cage the dissidents and undesirables but can they build a big enough cage to contain us all? This isn’t about being in a park after dark, or even erecting tents and structures in public places. I have witnessed on countless occasions  the city allow special events to happen in the parks. Days after we were evicted from Monroe Park the organizers of the Monument 10k set up E-Z-Ups all over the park and a long line of porta-potties which were there for a few days. They even handed out bread to the participants in the race. (I know because every week at Food Not Bombs I still see those little plastic bread ties all over the ground from where they threw them everywhere and neglected to pick them up, RAGE!!!!!) Was it because we built ragtag shanties and used sawdust buckets for a toilet? Was the quality of our imposing on the park not up to city standards? (I guess we picked up too much trash too, we kept our corner of the park litter free) Oh wait, I think I know what it was, we were in the park to say something, to bring attention to the gross injustices daily occurring in this great city of ours. We weren’t there to make money or promote some yuppie event that would bring the city good press for what a wonderful place it is for the suburbanites to come to during the weekends and spend their money. (just be careful you don’t get lost and got to THAT part of the city!) It is quite clear that the city government only sees public spaces as another avenue to be exploited and leeched till they wring every last penny out of it, in their eyes public places are no longer a place for people to gather and voice their opinions.

Where was I? I got lost in a puddle of ink and rage again. (R.I.P. Dr. Gonzo) Right the court case, must retain focus if we’re to make it out of this alive. The three of us, three brave souls who had stood our ground and were determined to see this through, marched forth from our den of iniquity and beat a path through the decrepit, brick-strewn sidewalks of our neglected neighborhood, hell-bent on that monument of oppression that rears its ugly head in the heart of our city. I wonder how many innocent people have been sentenced to years in a cage in that horrible building, how many victims of a cruel and unforgiving system had their lives stripped of them there? We were deep in their territory but when we reached the courtroom that had been appointed for us to do in battle we found a pleasant surprise. Reinforcements had come to provide us with moral support and give us strength in that trying and stressful time. We entered the court and our case was soon called, we sat in the seats and were immediately barraged with an array of legalities by the judge. Do you waive your right to a jury trial? Are you mentally able to stand trial? (by whose standards?) Are you making a complete mockery of my court by representing yourself instead of paying thousands of dollars you don’t have on a fancy attorney? Are you so mad with hubris that you dirty, crusty filth that crawled out of the gutters actually think you can challenge OUR laws in OUR hallowed halls? Yes.

Christopher Toepp used the full brunt of his William & Mary law degree to present evidence and witnesses who wasted great lengths of time swearing and affirming that, yes, the three of us were in the park at the time of the arrest, and that, yes, it was after dark and there were signs everywhere saying it was illegal to be in the park after dark. He seemed to enjoy wasting a lot of time proving something that we have proudly admitted and have at no point in the drawn-out court proceedings denied. He then went on to say we had no basis for challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance because we had never applied for a permit in the park. He cited the case of Hoffman Estates v. The Flip Side to say that we could not argue the constitutionality of the ordinance in anticipation of some anticipated third party that the law might have affected. Christopher Toepp in his hubris had once again made a fatal error. I had done my homework and had analyzed all his ammunition ahead of time, I had read the Supreme Court of Hoffman Estates and the Supreme Court had clearly stated that that case was related to commercial speech and as such didn’t receive the same protections as purely political speech. Also I argued since the case of Shuttlesworth clearly stated people are under no obligation to follow the law and obtain a permit we didn’t have to apply for a permit to be able to challenge the constitutionality of the permitting process.

The only case he had that applies to the case at hand was Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence. It is a loathsome case that has been used consistently against people who like to occupy parks. In the case the Supreme Court ruled that since the government had an interest in maintaining parks that it could bar people from camping in parks because it serves the governments interest of maintaining the park regardless of the nature of the message of the protest. This case is the only substantial rebuttal to my argument but it carries some weight. In the case the Supreme Court ruled that since the Federal Department of Parks had narrowly tailored limitations and regulations regarding the permitting process and allowed uses of the parks they could deny protesters the right to build a tent city as part of a prolonged protest. Richmond’s city ordinance however is extremely brief and vague and gives the director of parks absolute authority to grant or deny permits, things that the Supreme Court have consistently ruled as being unconstitutional. In the case of Clark the Supreme Court even said that building tent cities and sleeping in parks did constitute protected speech so it looks like the outcome of this case will rest on the judges decision on whether or not the ordinance is unconstitutional due to vagueness.

After hearing our arguments the judge called for a recess and set the next court date for Nov. 21 when she will give her final decision on the case. A lot is hanging in the air, and with so many people in this city determined to take back the public parks this ruling could take away a lot of the cities legal authority to break up tent cities. We shall see…

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