Twenty-nine protesters arrested in Nashville, Tennessee at 3 AM on Friday for refusing to comply with a newly-enacted city rule banning “overnight occupation” have been released after a judge refused to sign criminal trespassing warrants against them.
According to The Tennessean, Night Court Magistrate Tom Nelson explained in an email to Davidson County’s General Sessions judges that “he ordered all of the protesters released from custody because the state had not given the protesters adequate notice that it was changing the rules.”
Nashville Scene adds that Judge Nelson “has become something of a hero with the Occupy Nashville movement after dressing down the highway patrol for suddenly imposing the Capitol curfew and hauling the protesters to jail this morning.”
Nelson noted in his email that the protesters had been camping on Legislative Plaza for three weeks with no indication that this could be considered criminal activity, and that “fourteen hours is woefully inadequate time within which to allow the group an opportunity to comply with the newly enacted rules, regulations, curfew and permit requirements.’’
The commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security had insisted earlier in the day that the protesters “were very aware that they were trespassing” and indicated that Republican Governor Bill Halsam had signed off on the arrests.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester commented on these remarks by saying, “It’s not Governor Haslam’s right to decide which protesters are welcome on public property and which ones are not. Whether it’s Occupy Nashville or the Tea Party, the public has a constitutional right to address their feelings to the government on public land, which is the Legislative Plaza.”
“This is uncharted territory,” Forrester continued, “and it’s very slippery territory given our fundamental right to express our grievances, whatever they may be, to our government. Governor Haslam overstepped his bounds dramatically. It’s heartening to know a sensible judge understands the constitution and dismissed the charges as irrelevant.”
This video is from News 2 in Nashville, posted to YouTube October 28, 2011.