City avoids conflict with protesters

Antiwar encampment in South Park, although breaking rules, causing no trouble

City officials say they’re concerned with an antiwar encampment at South Park, but they’re stopping short of saying the group must leave.

Approximately 80 protesters have been in about 25 tents in the portion of the park west of Massachusetts Street since Saturday. City Manager Mike Wildgen said the encampment violated city ordinances, but he and other officials were still trying to decide what to do about the group.

“They’re a peace group,” Wildgen said. “They don’t want to have a confrontation, and we don’t want one either.”

Fred DeVictor, director of Parks and Recreation, told campers Tuesday of several concerns, including dead grass under the tents and trash in the area. He also is concerned about conflicts with events scheduled in upcoming weeks at the park.

He said campers promised to pick up litter, move their tents around to avoid killing grass and leave the area when there were events.

He said the campers had not been given an ultimatum to leave.

But “what may happen in the future, I don’t know,” he said.

Police Sgt. Mike Pattrick said a “political decision” was made to allow a few tents in South Park.

“We’re monitoring the situation,” he said. “We don’t have any current plans to make them move.”

Camper Chris White, a Kansas University doctoral student from Fresno, Calif., said he didn’t think the group was harming the park.

“I think it’s a tacit understanding between us and the city, that as long as we’re safe we can be here,” he said. “I think it shows their level of professionalism. I think they realize this is a nonviolent group of people. It behooves both groups if we behave ourselves.”

White said the encampment was a way to bring attention to the antiwar movement.

Another camper, 15-year-old Chelsea Shrimplin, said she thought Lawrence Police had grown accustomed to protests.

“I’m amazed they’re not coming over here telling us to leave,” she said. “Lawrence is a pretty liberal town.”

Allan Hanson, coordinator of the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, said police have worked hard to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters.

Hanson’s group has had numerous protests at the Douglas County Courthouse and marches downtown. Police have provided escorts for the marches.

“The police have been cooperative,” he said. “They have very much taken the position that as long as people aren’t complaining and things aren’t being broken, they take a hands-off posture to what we do.”

Pattrick said spontaneous street marches, such as the ones Friday and Sunday downtown, were technically illegal, but making arrests could be a problem for police.

“If you’ve got 14 or 15 people working, and you need to move 100 people who don’t want to move, the numbers aren’t conducive to let that happen,” he said. “It goes back to being a delicate balance between not making a nonviolent protest become a violent protest with police.”

Pattrick said he did not know of any arrests or citations issued from war protests.

Wildgen said he thought protesters had been well-behaved.

“So far I haven’t seen anything that would put the department in their riot gear,” he said.