For ‘Occupy Fresno,’ First Amendment trumped by county ordinance

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, November 8, 2011 9:30 EDT
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A protester is confronted by a police officer at "Occupy Fresno" on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. Screenshot via YouTube.
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For the third night in a row, protesters with “Occupy Fresno” were arrested for gathering in a public park, apparently in violation of a county ordinance that labeled them trespassers.

At least 20 were arrested over the weekend. Nine more were led away in handcuffs on Monday night.

While they could have moved their demonstration to the sidewalks at night to avoid the arrests, they’ve steadfastly refused, equating that action with forfeiture of their constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

Facing another round of arrests on Monday night, they continued to stand firm against police orders, chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go! Occupy Fresno!” and forcing officers to physically remove them.

In a video published to YouTube showing the scene Monday night, an officer in riot gear tells the small gathering of demonstrators that county ordinance requires them to leave the public area on police orders, or face arrest.

One of the protesters responds by saying that if the officer would simply refuse the unlawful order and uphold the First Amendment to the Constitution, they would help him find legal representation to battle any diciplinary actions the department may take.

When that didn’t fly, the protester turned to address the crowd instead.

“Amazing, right? Isn’t that amazing?” he said. “No Constitution in America. No protection for your First Amendment, constitutional right to peaceably assemble. We’re radicals because we stand here defending our constitutional right to peaceably assemble.

“Well, guess what? This country was founded by radicals who fought against the oppression of the country … This blows my mind here. I’m sorry, I’m kinda hot. I’m proud to be a radical, and I stand here with my brothers and my sisters at Occupy Fresno as an American. I’m a citizen of the Untied States of America and I have a First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and air my grievances against my government!”

The ordinance in Fresno is similar to local ordinances in virtually ever municipality, city and county across the United States, which give local officials enormous power to determine how long public assemblies may last, where they may take place, or even if people can assemble at all.

This video is from Fresno ABC affiliate KSFN-TV, broadcast Monday, Nov. 7, 2011.

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This video was published to YouTube on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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