OCCUPY NASHVILLE TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE ON NEW ANTI-HOMELESSNESS LAW
PROTESTERS MAKE PLANS FOR ARRESTS TO PROTEST UNJUST LAW
The recent passage of HB2638/SB2508 by the Tennessee State Legislature bans unauthorized camping on state-owned property, making it a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense. The penalty is a maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,500. This law also subjects items associated with camping to seizure and forfeiture. Many crimes which have real victims, like DUI, assault, or leaving the scene of an accident, carry equal or much lesser penalties.
Lawmakers have testified that this bill was written to target Occupy Nashville specifically. Occupy Nashville is the local arm of Occupy Wall Street, a worldwide political protest aimed at removing corporate influence and corruption from the political process.
This law violates the First Amendment and Article 1 rights of all Tennesseans. Our nation’s Constitution states that no law shall be passed which abridges rights granted by the Constitution. The State has no right to limit that expression, no matter the personal preferences, feelings, or opinions of the lawmakers. It is, in fact, our elected officials’ civic duty to acknowledge protest and to take into account the grievances for which redress is sought.
“As Occupy tents have come to symbolize much of what is wrong with our country today, and as banks foreclose on homes while continuing to trash our economy, we submit that the act of being homeless on state property is, in truth, a form of speech. Sweeping our vigil out of the view of the public will not solve anything; rather, it reinforces Occupy Nashville’s position that the state is not listening to the needs of the citizens whom it claims to serve,” says Occupier Michael Custer.
This law will have a dramatic effect on those citizens who are most marginalized in our society. Tennessee’s homeless population can now be jailed and fined for the ‘crime’ of simply existing in public spaces. According to Stand Down Nashville, between 600-700 of Nashville’s large homeless population are veterans. The spaces they are now prohibited from resting on are spaces that they fought for and risked their lives to preserve. Occupy Nashville’s position is that the Unites States government in general, and the Tennessee government in particular, should be less concerned with corporate welfare and more concerned with the health and well-being of its citizens.
This law also potentially criminalizes any resident of Tennessee who seeks to enjoy the outdoors. All public lands, such as parks and lakes, will be subject to enforcement of this law on anyone who “breaks ground”, “erects a tent”, “lays down bedding with the intention of sleeping”, or even “prepares a meal”. Several legislators have expressed their concern that outdoorsmen/women, boy/girl scouts, and the average American family can now be made criminals for using the lands and properties their tax dollars pay to keep and maintain. Occupy Nashville shares the same fear.
As a result of the state’s actions and impending eviction of the Occupy Nashville protest site, protesters have decided that their cause is too great to accept removal by the state. Protesters will face arrest in order to protest this unjust law. Occupiers have planned a press conference to speak to the press prior to their impending arrest, and will address this law and its effects on the homeless community and the free speech rights of citizens. The press conference will commence on Legislative Plaza at 12 noon on March 8th