OccupyMN fights Hennepin Co. on camping, sign rulesby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — OccupyMN protesters vowed to fight new restrictions on camping and posting signs at the Hennepin County Government Center plaza this week.
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat met with protesters Wednesday to discuss their concerns. The protesters had staged a sit-in in the lobby of the county board office and refused to leave until they spoke with a commissioner.
Opat told the protesters that he sympathized with their concerns about the economy, but that he thinks they have lost sight of those issues.
"Yesterday, they came up and testified about torture and legalizing hemp, and various other things that just don't have any place in the county dialogue," Opat said. "I think they're losing their effectiveness in terms of communicating a single message that folks can get behind.
"I don't know what they stand for anymore, except for camping."
The county board stands by the new rules and needs to focus on other county business. Opat said.
Protester Kim DeFranco said county officials and law enforcement are trying to prevent people from expressing their outrage at the country's economic conditions.
"They'll try anything to stop these occupations," DeFranco said. "So, they want us to go back on the unemployment lines, go back to our jobs, and just go away from public view so they can continue their unlawful practices of getting richer and richer while the 99 percent of us are just being thrown down the economic ladder."
The protest at the plaza began Oct. 7 and has attracted several dozen people every day since then. Protesters gather to eat food, play music and participate in daily "general assembly" meetings to make decisions about the group's activities. The movement has resulted in a handful of arrests for non-violent offenses.
In recent days, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has emphasized the amount of money spent policing the plaza. He said the office has spent about $133,000 in overtime pay for sheriff's deputies.
There have been 12 arrests related to the OccupyMN protest from Oct. 7 through Nov. 13, according to a list provided by the Sheriff's Office. Seven of the arrests occurred at a street protest on Oct. 20 and were handled by Minneapolis police.
On Wednesday, Stanek told MPR News that his office is talking with law enforcement officials around the country about how to handle the OccupyMN protest. He declined to say what his office has been sharing with other agencies.
"We've been out to Washington, D.C. We've been out to Chicago, talked with a number of others," Stanek said. "So we keep daily tabs on what's happening across the country in terms of the Occupy movement."
Stanek refused to say which members of the sheriff's office traveled to Washington, D.C. and Chicago and which agencies they met with or whether any of those meetings included federal officials. He said the meetings are focused on preventing the protests from becoming violent.
Opat, the Hennepin county commissioner, said he was unaware of any trips made by the Sheriff's Office to Washington, D.C. or Chicago or any other conversations with law enforcement agencies in other states.
FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson said he's not aware of any meetings between local law enforcement and the FBI.
"We haven't been involved in this," he said.
In total, from Oct. 7 through Nov. 13, the Sheriff's Office reported 29 incidents related to the OccupyMN protest. Most did not result in arrest. They include seven incidents in which someone at the plaza needed medical care. In one case, a man was transported to HCMC for a diabetic reaction. In another, someone requested help for a man who was hearing voices. Nine people have been given trespass notices by county security officials, who operate separately from the Sheriff's Office.