By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Occupy Nashville protesters say they will continue challenging a new law intended to evict them from their camp near the state Capitol even though a fellow protester wasn’t arrested during enforcement of the law early Monday morning.
The law, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it.
Christopher Humphrey, 24, was maintaining his vigil at the group’s camp on War Memorial Plaza when he said about 20 state troopers came onto the plaza around 4 a.m. Monday.
Humphrey said he was asked to come out of his tent. When he did, he said he stood in front of the tent and extended his arms to be handcuffed.
“The officer very carefully grabbed my arm, walked me about four paces … and said that I wasn’t being arrested,” Humphrey said. “That was disappointing to me because I knew that I was going to be arrested.”
He said the troopers proceeded to remove his tent, as well as two others nearby from the plaza. State workers then begin pressure washing the plaza.
Safety Department spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals told The Associated Press in an email that “no arrests were made and no citations issued as all protesters on the plaza cooperated with the troopers.”
The main provision of the legislation makes it a misdemeanor to lay down “bedding for the purpose of sleeping” on government-owned land at the Capitol. It refers to items associated with camping, “including tents, portable toilets, sleeping bags, tarps, stakes, ropes, blankets, propane heaters, cooking equipment and generators.”
Violators can face up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500 or both.
The state gave the protesters a seven-day notice on March 2 to remove their encampment, but it wasn’t clear when the Tennessee Highway Patrol would start enforcing the law.
State troopers raided the encampment in late October and made 55 arrests, but Haslam ordered the charges dropped when Nashville courts refused to jail the protesters. The state backed down and decided not to fight a federal court order that found the raids had violated the First Amendment rights of the protesters.
Critics contend the new law passed will in effect criminalize homelessness. The protesters in Nashville have used the plaza area near where lawmakers work to protest corporate influence in government and income inequality.
Humphrey said getting arrested is one way the group can “continue making a statement” and he doesn’t plan to stop contesting the law.
“Something that criminalizes … people is worth coming out here day after day,” Humphrey said.
Protester Jane Hussain agreed.
“I think we can definitely say there will be more tents on the plaza,” she said.