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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Occupy New Orleans Wins Restraining Order

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A federal judge granted Occupy New Orleans a 7-day temporary restraining order, allow it to reoccupy a downtown park for the next week.

Protesters filed a complaint for declaratory judgment on Monday, and U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey granted the temporary restraining order on Wednesday.

An attorney for the protesters called the issuance of the TRO "unprecedented."

Sister Alison McCrary, a Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow and attorney working on behalf of the protestors, said that no other Occupy group in the nationwide protests has been granted judicial permission to reoccupy.

McCrary said the city violated the judicial process when it forced occupants out early this week. The raid came after 2 months of what the protesters saw as an amicable relationship with city officials.

Duncan Plaza has been occupied by OccupyNOLA protesters since Oct. 6.

McCrary said at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday the city brought bulldozers into the park to force protesters out, and crushed about 200 tents and their contents.

McCrary said the protesters included elderly and homeless people, who cannot rebound quickly from losing everything.

She said protesters' belongings were still in tents when the bulldozers came. Everything was crushed: medication, laptops, identification, walkers, wheelchairs, clothes, electronics.

On Tuesday, after the raid, Duncan Plaza was roped off and New Orleans Police Officers sat in their cars in the park to oversee evacuation.

McCrary is working on a complaint on behalf of the protesters for property damage and civil rights violations.

Already filed is a complaint for declaratory judgment.

Late Tuesday, after a hearing on a request from OccupyNOLA, Judge Zainey granted a temporary restraining order that allows the group to continue to occupy Duncan Plaza for another 7 days.

Zainey's Dec. 6 ruling states: "The occupants many remain on the premises of Duncan Plaza all night, and will be allowed to live in tents for the next seven days beginning today."

The order lays out seven conditions the protesters must follow to stay in the park. Among them, the protesters are prohibited from using open flames or electrical cords and they cannot have weapons. They must provide their own port-o-lets. Previously the city provided port-o-lets for the protesters. And the judge required a $5,000 security deposit.

On Wednesday afternoon, as Sister McCrary paused in Duncan Plaza to talk with Courthouse News, protesters moved quickly in the dusk and biting cold to put poles back into tents. Thirteen tents stood already. Others were on the rise.

The complaint for declaratory judgment stemmed from the city's sudden decision this week that the protesters had to go. Named as defendants were Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Police Chief Ronal Serpas and the City of New Orleans.

The complaint states: "Plaintiffs and others, calling themselves Occupy New Orleans, have peacefully occupied Duncan Plaza since October 6, 2011. This group has been protesting the dramatic inequality and economic injustice in the USA and has by their actions and by their speech expressed their views on any number of social justice issues by regularly engaging in open meetings, sharing food and other resources, and by maintaining a 24 hour presence in the park.

"October 7, 2011, Mayor Landrieu and other officials visited Occupy New Orleans in Duncan Plaza and told participants he was 'glad you all are doing well' and encouraged them to get some doughnuts and to keep their spirits up. ...

"Yet on December 3, 2011, the Mayor of New Orleans effectively revoked authorization for the people when he said the protesters must immediately clear the park or face police action.

"This threat is in direct violation of a consent decree entered into by the City of New Orleans in the federal court many years ago that City authorities would stop arresting people for sleeping in public. Defendants cannot now do exactly that under the pretext of another provision of their municipal code.

"When the people of Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and other countries gathered to protest injustices in their countries, the United States government spoke out in favor of those protests and was very critical when their governments attempted to interfere with the protestors. This action seeks the same protection for people in the United States of America who are protesting injustices that the United States seeks for democratic protestors in other countries."

The complaint adds: "The hallmark of the Occupy movement, in New Orleans and elsewhere, is continuous occupation of high visibility locales associated with democracy or corporate and financial influence as protest sites. Duncan Plaza is a highly visible park located in the Central Business District neighborhood of New Orleans and in close proximity to nearby banks, corporations and other institutions at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy New Orleans protesters' political concerns, including the New Orleans City Hall, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Shell Oil Company, the Federal Reserve, and the soon to be shuttered New Orleans U.S. Mail Postal facility.

"The act of occupying serves as a means of communicating their protest message that popular control over the means of democratic governance must be renewed. ...

"Occupy New Orleans General Assembly has adopted policies and procedures by consensus that govern the conduct of its protestors, business, and participants at all events conducted by the organization or on its behalf. These policies are to help with the safety and health of protest participants, through the discouragement of the use of drugs or alcohol, or engaging in threatening or disorderly behavior, at Duncan Plaza or while participating in any of its political protest related rallies and events.

"As the protest has grown, Occupy New Orleans has attracted some participants with a range of physical and mental health problems, due to the complete lack of city resources to address these issues."

The complaint says the protest will continue.

"As the name 'Occupy New Orleans' makes clear, the continuous occupation of Duncan Plaza is not just integral to the protestors' expression of the grievances; it is their protest. ...

"The individual plaintiffs and other participants in Occupy New Orleans intend to continue their protest continuously twenty-four hours per day."

Nadra Enziaya and seven other named plaintiffs are represented by Davida Finger and William Quigley with the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

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