Occupy Tucson: DeAnza eviction was illegal
On Thursday, March 1, 2012, Occupy Tucson was evicted from its third home, located next to De Anza Park, by the Tucson Police Department. The eviction resulted in twenty-one arrests. News reports in local media suggested that the arrests occurred as a result of violence on the part of Occupy Tucson. These reports are inaccurate and Occupy Tucson wishes to correct the record.
First, we wish to make clear the position Occupy Tucson takes in opposition to Chief Villaseñor's illegal enforcement action. The arrests were an act of peaceful civil disobedience. TPD gave notice early Wednesday that they intended to evict Occupy Tucson on Thursday. It is the position of Occupy Tucson that the occupation of the easement between De Anza Park and the sidewalk along Stone Avenue that we began with General Assembly consensus on February 2 is in full compliance with all applicable laws. Further, Occupy Tucson's position is that the United States and Arizona Constitutions protect political speech like the De Anza occupation. Finally, to the extent that TPD asserts Tucson ordinances have been violated, that position on the part of TPD is an unauthorized exercise of unconstitutional discretion by the police. Protesters who refused to comply with the TPD order to clear the easement were peacefully acting in civil disobedience with an illegal police action. And yet, despite TPD's unprofessional and illegal actions, none of the occupiers resisted arrest. TPD completed this series of illegal arrests with no violent resistance from Tucson Occupiers.
We respectfully ask local television news outlets and any other journalist who reported incorrectly that the arrest was predicated on violence by Occupy Tucson to issue an immediate correction.
Finally, members of the Occupy Tucson Legal Working Group have put together the following statement noting unreported facts about TPD's illegal March 1st action against Occupy Tucson. In sum, TPD and the City of Tucson should be held accountable for their abuse of power, and Occupy Tucson is committed to seeing that they are.
1. TPD removed camper's personal possessions under the pretense of "confiscating evidence." Many of these personal items were the entire worldly possessions of homeless OTers. If evidence collection were TPD's actual concern, the police could have chosen to photograph the site and a couple of sample items, and allowed homeless occupiers to keep their belongings. That they chose instead to confiscate all the personal property of every occupier demonstrates that their actual goal was to prevent occupiers from legally presenting their message to the city of Tucson. This is a disgraceful abuse of power and a violation of the due process rights of all occupiers.
2. TPD denied the legal team access to their clients during questioning and arrest. Legal team members were barred from observing police procedure, from identifying who was being arrested, and from identifying what laws arrested occupiers were suspected of breaking. TPD claims this was a necessary measure for "officer safety." It is unclear what threat a few legally trained individuals who regularly work in the Tucson justice system could ever pose to dozens of armed police officers. To suggest that there was any threat is patently absurd and gives the lie of this explanation. In fact TPD barred the legal team from observing their actions because TPD knew what it was doing was illegal. All they accomplished by barring the legal team from assisting its clients was limiting the evidence of TPDs own illegal activity as it violated the rights to counsel of arrested occupiers.
3. TPD charged arrestees with obstructing the sidewalks. The occupation was (and always had been) established on an unpaved easement between the park boundary and the regular sidewalk. This strip of public land was specifically selected to avoid blocking sidewalks and violating park hour regulations. Arresting law abiding occupiers for blocking the sidewalks is therefore absurd. Sidewalks are paved and specifically abut city streets. The occupation was located on the unpaved easement with a full expanse of unobstructed sidewalk between it and the street. In addition, City Code allows an exemption for any citizen who is in the process of exercising their First Amendment rights to remain on the sidewalks. Even if occupiers were on the sidewalks, they were acting in accordance with city law in doing so.
4. When the police descended at 9:45 a.m., they ordered all occupiers away from their tents and personal property. They immediately began arresting occupiers without giving occupiers an opportunity to comply with the order. The law on which TPD built the pretense of this mass arrest requires adequate notice and an opportunity to comply with police orders. By failing to give occupiers this notice, TPD again violated the law that they claimed to be enforcing. In addition, the City Code itself is far too vague and gives too much discretion to police – which was obviously used in this situation. This is a violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and is a disturbing abuse of power on the part of TPD and Chief Villaseñor.
5. Police Chief Villaseñor claims he ordered the encampment removed because of complaints from nearby businesses and ambiguous claims of a crime rate increase. If this were true, arresting people for obstructing a sidewalk is a blatant pretense. Crime rates are a function of arrests and reports of crimes. TPD's vague assertion that "crime went up" is not born out by any evidence TPD has presented. Further, even if local businesses complained, this is a democracy and influential business interests in the City of Tucson are not entitled to dictate law enforcement to trump up charges to suit their whims.
Under Chief Villaseñor's direction, the Tucson Police Department abused both power and force March 1. They feebly attempted to cloak their actions under color of law with a vague, rarely-used City ordinance to do so. Occupy Tucson has established that it is a community of people exercising their First Amendment rights and have been compliant and cooperative in all past dealings with the Tucson Police Department, despite their disreputable and unconscionable actions.
Occupy Tucson has tried very hard to work with the City in expressing its message. It is clear at this late date that the City has chosen to side with the plutocrats over the democrats.
Tex Shelters, Mary DeCamp, Alice Whitenburg and Sherry Mann wrote this opinion piece with the other members of the Occupy Tucson Public Relations Working Group.