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Resolution on city plaza hours gets hearing

The resolution, authored by Council President Barb Johnson, would establish hours of use for plazas beginning at 6 a.m. and closing at midnight.

Council President Barb Johnson

A resolution that would restrict activities on city-owned plazas aimed at the Occupy protesters got a brief hearing Wednesday at City Hall with another hearing on the same topic scheduled for May 2.

The resolution, authored by Council President Barb Johnson, would establish hours of use for plazas beginning at 6 a.m. and closing at midnight. During the hours when the plazas are closed people would be allowed to pass trough them “without delay.”

Johnson said Friday that her resolution mirrored action taken last fall by Hennepin County after its experiences with protesters from the Occupy movement.

The resolution would also prohibit camping or sleeping on the plazas, allow unattended or stored property to be removed, and ban portable toilets and cooking except by permit. It would also allow police officers to issue notice of trespass which could eventually lead to arrest.

‘You are targeting us’

“You are targeting us as American citizens,” said Osha Karow, who has been one of the leaders of the Occupy movement. “You would restrict our ability to peacefully assemble.”

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Karow said he has seen police harassment of homeless people during his time with Occupy and called the resolution “un-American, un-constitutional and not right.”

Michael Katch pointed out what he sees as an “unintended consequence” of the resolution, which he said would have an impact on the homeless.

“A lot of homeless women sleep on the plazas,” said Katch, who is not part of the Occupy movement but does work with the homeless. He said the resolution would have “dire consequences for the homeless community.”

‘One of the few safe places’

“Peavey Plaza is one of the few safe places a homeless person like myself will go,” said Dingane Xaba, who asked council members to “be on the right side of history and defend our constitutional rights.”

Dave Bicking also asked council members to consider the constitutional aspects if the proposed resolution, which he says is clearly aimed at members of the Occupy movement.

“It’s dishonest to pretend that this is a neutral resolution,” said Bicking. “We should not be restricting free speech and assembly.”

Dave Cummer recalled the year 1981 and “how crazy City Council members made themselves over the prospect of the Gay Pride Block Party.” Cummer pointed out that the city has survived and cautioned council members to “spare yourself future embarrassment and drop this.”

Mary Murphy asked council members if they had received copies of a resolution from the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers denouncing police treatment of Occupy members. The organization represents 75 peace groups and 14 churches.

‘We are watching you’

“We are watching you and we are watching this movement,” said Murphy, “and we are here to protect this movement.”

After the public testimony, Council Member Cam Gordon said he was looking forward to the next public conversation about the use of plazas and noted that his office has received no complaints about Occupy people at Peavey Plaza.

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“When you have a city, you have to balance the interests of groups,” said resolution author Johnson, who also pointed out that in her 15 years on the City Council there has always been strong support for the homeless.

“To say we don’t care about the homeless is incorrect and offensive,” said Johnson.

“This resolution is a solution in search of a problem,” said Council Member Betsy Hodges. “We all need to be working together on a set of values we share.”

Council Members did not vote on the resolution; a vote is likely after the public hearing on May 2.