Mayor asks for answers on Occupy Raleigh arrests

'Occupy Raleigh' protestors remain at the State Capitol

November 1, 2011 3:26:20 PM PDT
Raleigh's mayor addressed the 'Occupy Raleigh' movement at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Charles Meeker said he wanted a better explanation of why city police arrested eight protesters with the local Occupy Wall Street group. The mayor had questions about jurisdiction and the role of Raleigh police during arrests by state officers.

Raleigh police assisted Capitol police as they arrested protesters who have been demonstrating for weeks in downtown Raleigh.

Police said the group was blocking the sidewalk outside the state capitol building with chairs, signs, and debris.

"The public sidewalks, and the capitol, the lands that belong to the people, belong to the people and it's unjust for them to be ordered off the sidewalk to shutdown freedom of speech," protester Eddy Samara said.

Mayor Meeker has said he's concerned about the constitutional rights of the demonstrators.

One case that got his attention was a protester, who said she's handicapped, who was arrested after she refused to move her chair from the sidewalk and stand. Protesters had been using chairs for days, but were told last week they were no longer allowed.

In response to Meeker's query, Raleigh's city manager said the change in policy came from Capitol police and Raleigh police only provided assistance.

"The Capitol police did believe that the accumulation of gear, other things - tables, chairs - was creating a pedestrian hazard," Russell Allen explained.

The mayor seemed satisfied with the answers.

Outside the meeting, Chief Harry Dolan defended his officers handling of the protest while trying to balance the rights of all citizens.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the professionalism, the demeanor of the officers. They're doing a terrific job particularly when look at across the county what's occurring," he offered.

The chief also complimented protesters on their behavior. One of the protesters said afterward that Raleigh police aren't the problem.

"The Raleigh Police have been extremely professional and friendly," said protestor Joseph Huberman.

Huberman told ABC11 the protesters are frustrated because they believe Capitol police are trying to roust them.

"I think it's just a way of them, you know, continually changing the rules and creating a situation where I think they're just trying to get us to give up," he said.

Meanwhile, critics of the movement have said all the extra police work costs taxpayers too much.

"People are really starting to say, this is adding up," Mitch Kokai with the John Locke Foundation said. "The right to free speech gives other people the duty not to infringe upon your right to free speech; it doesn't mean that they have the duty to pay for your free speech."

However, protesters said they have a right to be there.

"Democracy isn't cheap," protester Huberman said. "There's a cost to having a democratic government."

More than $26,000 was spent on the weekend the arrests took place. Each day since, it has cost city taxpayers another $1,500.

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