ST. LOUIS (CN) – Occupy St. Louis cannot stay overnight in a downtown city park overnight, but they can sit on nearby sidewalks, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, but city officials said the protesters can sit out the night on nearby sidewalks without being arrested.
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson issued a bench ruling after 4 hours of testimony, finding that Occupy St. Louis failed to demonstrate that it was likely to succeed on the merits.
Occupy St. Louis sued the city and its police department after the city said it would start enforcing an ordinance that closes city parks from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Occupy St. Louis claimed the law was arbitrary and violated the First Amendment.
But Judge Jackson said that Occupy lawyers had not proved that the ordinance was selectively enforced, or that the restriction of protesters’ speech was not content-neutral. She also said that Occupy lawyers failed to show that the ordinance, in its 30-year history, had been enforced only against the Occupy group.
Occupy St. Louis said that the tents it had set up in Kiener Plaza were a vital part of the protest – a symbol of the homes that had been foreclosed on. Occupy members testified that an overnight presence in the park was essential to maintain the sense of community and to participate in meetings and discussions with those who might not be able to make it during the day.
City lawyers argued that the protesters were only being asked to move to the sidewalks by the park between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The city said the park curfew ordinance was narrowly crafted to protect public access to parks, and for safety and sanitary concerns about overnight use.
On Friday, Jackson denied Occupy’s request for a temporary restraining order on enforcement of the law. Hours after that ruling, city police arrested about 100 Occupy protesters in Kiener Plaza for curfew violations.
Occupy St. Louis has since returned to Kiener Plaza, and has complied with the ordinance by removing the tents and moving to the sidewalk between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.