Cedar Rapids protesters refuse to take down tents

By Ryan J. Foley

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 22 2011 1:11 p.m. MST

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The city of Cedar Rapids on Tuesday backed down, at least temporarily, from a threat to seize tents and other personal property from a field where protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement have camped for weeks.

A city notice issued Monday gave Occupy Cedar Rapids protesters until 8 a.m. Tuesday to clear the field along the Cedar River of their tents, fire pits, signs and other items built up during the protest. The notice warned that the accumulation of private property on public land was illegal and that items would be taken and stored elsewhere by city officials if they weren't gone by Tuesday morning.

Protesters say they ignored the demand because they have a constitutional right to assemble in the lot. The deadline passed as about 20 protesters gathered around a campfire and talked. No one from the city showed up at the site in a working-class neighborhood, which has been empty green space after homes that were ruined during the historic flood of 2008 were bought out and demolished. About 10 tents remained in the field.

Protesters have asked a judge to issue an injunction stopping the city from removing their property from the city-owned site. Court officials said a hearing on the request would be held Monday.

City spokeswoman Cassie Willis said after the deadline passed Tuesday that officials were "evaluating the situation" and hadn't decided how to act. She said the notice was not meant to remove the protesters themselves, only "junk" that some drivers and neighbors had complained about.

The city later issued a press release saying city officials noted a reduction in the amount of personal property at the site and been served notice of next week's court hearing. "Until the hearing, the City will continue to monitor the use of the site and work through the judicial process to find a solution to the situation," the statement said.

Robert Wilson, a lawyer representing the protesters, said he was advising them to stay put until the hearing. If city officials take their property but a judge later grants an injunction, he said protesters would file a lawsuit seeking damages and demanding city officials rebuild the site the way it was.

After the federally-funded home buyouts and demolitions, Wilson said the space is considered a greenway under federal rules and camping is a permitted use.

"All the people are doing there is exchanging their views on various things and anybody is allowed to come in and talk," he said. "Our position is, they have a constitutional right to assembly. They have a constitutional right to free speech. And under the greenway, they are allowed to have campaign equipment."

Willis said the city has been trying to work with protesters since Nov. 5 to get them to seek a special events permit to occupy the land, but they have not taken those steps.

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