The noon deadline for Occupy DC protesters to clear out their camping gear came and went today. By mid-afternoon, National Park Service police had declined to move in and enforce the law.
Far from clearing McPherson Square, the hub of the protest’s Washington activity, occupiers draped a large blue tarp over the statue of General James McPherson, which sits at the center of the park.
For months, the Park Service had insisted that occupiers’ overnight presence at the park – which appeared to be a violation of statutes prohibiting camping on federal land – was protected First Amendment expression. The House Oversight Committee explored the issue in a hearing last week, during which NPS defended the position. But as Scribe noted last week, the Supreme Court has already weighed in on the issue, and ruled that camping is not a protected activity under the First Amendment.
Authorities at McPherson Square told protesters and the many members of the media in attendance that occupiers were “definitely not in compliance,” in the words of one NPS officer.
Park Service spokesman Sgt. James Schlosser said that NPS would be enforcing the camping ban, but declined to say when. That was at about 1:30 p.m. By 3:30 p.m., police still had not moved into the park to enforce the ban (though they did conduct a pair of walk-throughs). The sense among protesters was that police would wait for the sun to go down before moving in to enforce the ban.
In preparation for the impending police operation, occupiers loaded moving trucks with belongings, which they said were bound for the AFL-CIO’s Washington headquarters. The union has provided extensive support for the group, allowing them to bathe in their building, and even taking out Internet advertisements to promote the protests.
Below is a picture of the NPS order requiring that protesters clear all camping equipment from the park and leave at least one side of every temporary structure open.