Jonathan Jarvis, Director of National Park Services, explained to Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) on Tuesday why the “Occupy DC” protesters had a constitutional right to camp out 24 hours a day.
His comments came during a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee hearing regarding the the “Occupy” protesters in Washington, DC. The protesters have camped out at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza since October, in violation of a ban on camping at the public parks.
Republicans claimed Jarvis was “turning a blind eye,” but he said it was his duty to protect the First Amendment rights of demonstrators.
“You said one thing in the first line of questioning that has eaten at me, and maybe I misinterpreted it,” Walsh said during the hearing. “You said that because thew word ‘occupy’ was in the name of this protest group, you were treating them a little differently. Is that right?”
“No,” Jarvis responded. “Each First Amendment protest has its unique components. In this particular one… their principle behind their First Amendment activity is to quote unquote occupy a piece of public land.”
“Which is giving you a bit more discretion in how you deal with them,” Walsh interrupted.
“I would say a bit more of a challenge in how we deal with it,” Jarvis replied.
Walsh then asked if he could live in Washington, DC if he started a protest group named “Live in DC.”
“I see what you are saying,” Jarvis said, “but I don’t think the name is, I’m not using it with a capital ‘O.’ I’m using it in terms of a verb. They’re occupying the site. And any protest that comes to Washington, DC with First Amendment rights has to be evaluated in terms of how we deal with them to gain compliance, and this one, as we have said, is unprecedented. We’re working our way through this.”
Walsh has blasted the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the past, claiming the protests were a ploy to help re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012.
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by Rep. Walsh’s office, below: