Hennepin Co. toughens rules for OccupyMNby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The Hennepin County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to prohibit OccupyMN protesters from sleeping on the Government Center plaza or the center grounds, starting next week.
The board's action also prohibits protesters from storing or leaving personal items unattended. And it forbids demonstrators from attaching signs to county property.
Board chair Mike Opat said until now, the county has relaxed its rules in order to accommodate protesters. The resolution says demonstrators are still welcome on the plaza, but cannot sleep there.
"We are attempting to strike a balance between stewardship of the public space and ... making sure there's not an exclusive use of the plaza that takes away from other folks' opportunity to use it," Opat said.
OccupyMN protesters say the restrictions their First Amendment rights. Demonstrator Nick Espinoza said commissioners don't seem to understand that sleeping overnight and occupying the government center is central to their message.
"To us it's confusing why all of a sudden now, they've decided to put these new restrictions on. It does feel like an eviction notice. It feels like they're trying to force us off the plaza," Espinoza said.
Minnesota ACLU chapter director Charles Samuelson said OccupyMN has asked the ACLU for help to stop the county's action. He said there's time to get an injunction to stop the rules from going into effect next week.
Officials said the county has spent more than $170,000 on additional sheriff costs since the protestors first occupied the Government Center Plaza a month ago.