ARTICLE

Protesters, city face off

Occupy group sues after C.R. orders site cleared

Members of the Occupy Cedar Rapids movement gather before their general assembly meeting at their encampment at the intersection of M Avenue NW and First St. NW on Nov. 3. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazettte)
Members of the Occupy Cedar Rapids movement gather before their general assembly meeting at their encampment at the intersection of M Avenue NW and First St. NW on Nov. 3. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazettte)

UPDATE: The city of Cedar Rapids’ attempt to make Occupy Cedar Rapids protesters remove all their property from city-owned lots on the northwest side won’t come off without a court challenge.

The local movement began in Greene Square Park several weeks ago and moved to the corner of M Avenue and First Street NW around the beginning of November. At 8 a.m. Monday, a Cedar Rapids police officer read and posted an notice that the handful of protesters must remove their camping gear and other equipment from the space.

The notice stated that “the placement, accumulation, use and storage on the premises of all personal property ... constitutes a violation of the laws of the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa and all such items must be removed from the premises immediately.” The notice gave Occupy Cedar Rapids protesters until 8 a.m. today to remove their items.

But Robert Wilson, an attorney who is representing the protesters, filed a lawsuit in Linn County District Court on Monday afternoon, asking for an injunction to prohibit the city’s action.

Wilson said the suit will contend that the site occupied by protesters is “greenway” space bought with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds — and as such, the city does not have the right to prohibit either free speech or the right of assembly to use the site. The city’s notice to the protesters referred to the area as “city-owned property” that came from flood-damaged homes acquired during buyouts.

Wilson said a computer malfunction prevented the court from setting a hearing date Monday afternoon. City officials had not seen the court document at that point and would not comment. Barring a court hearing on the question, what happens at the site at 8 a.m. today will be up to the city.

Some protesters at the site Monday morning were withholding comment until the court action was filed. But Greg Vail, who lives next door to the Occupy site and is also a supporter, said he wasn’t prepared to take down his tent.

“My tent’s going to stay where it’s at. I read the piece of paper, it doesn’t state any violation — it doesn’t show any violation of a court ordinance on there,” Vail said.

In its notice, the city said group organizers were told beginning Nov. 5 that they needed to apply for a special events permit to continue leaving their personal property on the land for their protest action. Nobody connected with the Occupy Cedar Rapids group ever took that step.

In some cities, trying to encourage protesters to leave sites has resulted in confrontations, said Sandi Fowler, assistant to the city manager.

“I can’t anticipated whether it will be difficult,” she said. “All we’re trying to do right now is remove the personal property that has accumulated on the site.”

Fowler said that if protesters had not removed their property by the deadline, then city workers would clean up the area and remove it.

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