8:20 P.M. UPDATE: About 20 members of the Occupy Lawrence group on Wednesday night indicated that they plan to begin a campaign of civil disobedience by defying a city order to stop camping in South Park.
A group of about 50 people have been meeting for more than two hours at the park to discuss a response to the city’s order that was handed down today. At about 8 p.m., the group took a break to warm up around propane space heaters and to have individual discussions. The group plans to reconvene by about 8:30 p.m. to formulate a formal response plan.
Several members, though, said the movement needs to move into a new phase that includes civil disobedience.
“Lawrence residents shouldn’t only expect civil disobedience but they should participate in it,” said camper David Hughes-Pfeifer.
There were several suggestions of moving their “occupation” to near the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets or to the front lawn of City Hall at Sixth and Massachusetts streets, but the group has not yet taken any votes to gauge support for those ideas.
Check back on LJWorld.com for more updates.
The Occupy Lawrence campers in South Park were told Wednesday afternoon by a city delegation led by the chief of police that their camping activities in the park need to end by Thursday night.
But campers were gearing up for a 6 p.m. assembly to decide whether to defy the city’s orders.
Police Chief Tarik Khatib, along with the city’s director of the Legal Department and Parks and Recreation officials, told the group of about 30 campers that their permit to stay in the park overnight has expired. Toni Wheeler, director of the Legal Department, said she told the group that the city expected the campers to remove their tents and no longer use the park between the hours of 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. — which is the time that the park is considered officially closed.
But Wheeler said the city did give the campers assurance that police would take no action Wednesday evening to enforce the no-camping provision. Instead, she expects the group to call her office by 8:30 a.m. Thursday to notify her they intend to comply with the city’s laws regarding the park.
Group members weren’t so sure that would be the course they would take. Jason Phoenix, a spokesman for the group, said the campers would hold a “public assembly” at 6 p.m. at the park where group members would reach consensus on whether they would end their occupation of the park.
Phoenix said he was uncertain how group members would decide, but he said many campers feel strongly that they have a right to occupy the park at any time.
“I believe the First Amendment supersedes all other laws,” Phoenix said. “Our freedom to peaceful assembly is more important than whether the park remains on schedule.”
But Wheeler said there were important public safety reasons to have the park closed overnight. She said the lighting in the park is poor, which creates safety concerns. She also said the city earlier in the day notified the campers that they cannot use a fire pit to have an open flame in the park, particularly because of high winds and dry conditions. She said the city had concerns about the campers’ ability to remain warm during the night.
Wheeler stopped short of saying that the city would physically remove the campers if they fail to comply, but she said the city would have the right to do so.
“If they do not leave, they could be cited for a violation of the city code and they would be in the park without the legal authority to be there and they could be removed,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler, though, said she told campers that the city does not object to the campers using the park during the normal operating hours of the park — from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
“We did stress to them that we are fully supportive of them using the park in the daytime hours, even if it is day after day after day, as long as they remove their belonging and leave the park when it closes,” Wheeler said.