By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee state troopers for the second straight night arrested Wall Street protesters for defying a new nighttime curfew imposed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in an effort to disband an encampment near the state Capitol.
And for a second time, a Nashville night judge dismissed the protesters’ arrest warrants.
The Tennessean newspaper reported early Saturday morning (http://tnne.ws/vE2PXN) that Magistrate Tom Nelson told troopers delivering the protesters to jail that he could “find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza.”
Occupy Nashville protesters — including many of the 29 arrested in a pre-dawn raid on Friday — returned to the Legislative Plaza that evening and remained through the 10 p.m. curfew.
“To see it from the other side is even more infuriating,” said Chip Allen, one of the protesters arrested in the first raid. “When you’re in it, it’s almost surreal. This takes on a whole ‘nother flavor.”
The arrests came after a week of police crackdowns around the country on Occupy Wall Street activists, who have been protesting economic inequality and what they call corporate greed.
In Oakland, Calif., an Iraq War veteran was seriously injured during a protest clash with police Tuesday night. In Atlanta early Wednesday, helicopters hovered overhead as officers in riot gear arrested more than 50 protesters at a downtown park. In San Diego, police arrested 51 people who occupied the Civic Center Plaza and Children’s Park for three weeks.
In Nashville, more than 200 people came to Friday evening’s meeting to discuss the first round of arrests and future plans, though those numbers had dwindled as the night wore on and temperatures dropped.
There was no noticeable law enforcement presence for nearly two hours after the curfew went into effect, while adjacent theaters let out and patrons filtered back through the plaza to their cars without being challenged for violating the restrictions.
“Nothing was done to them, they were not arrested,” said protester Michael Custer, 46. “But we are arrested while we are expressing our constitutional right to free speech.”
Once the theater traffic cleared, dozens of state troopers descended on the plaza and began arresting protesters and a journalist for the Nashville Scene, an alternative weekly newspaper.
Troopers wouldn’t give any details other than that a press release would be issued later Saturday. After the arrested protesters were handcuffed, photographed and put on a bus, one trooper told another at the scene that 26 people had been apprehended.
Protesters remaining at the scene vowed to return Saturday, even if it means more arrests.
The 29 demonstrators arrested early Friday were taken to the Nashville jail, only to have Nelson, the night judge, rule the state had not given them enough time to comply with the new curfew. They were instead issued misdemeanor citations for trespassing, which carry a $50 fine if they are found guilty.
It was not immediately clear if other charges would be filed against those arrested Saturday morning.
The Haslam administration has cited what officials described as deteriorating security and sanitary conditions on the plaza, saying that acts of lewd behavior had been observed by workers in state office buildings.
Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said it was unrealistic to meet requests from protesters for a stronger law enforcement presence to help deter thefts and altercations often involving homeless people who had attached themselves to the encampment.
“We don’t have the resources to go out and in effect babysit protesters 24-7 … at the level that would have been necessary to address their concerns,” Gibbons said during a press conference Friday.