A Washington federal judge is set to hear arguments later this month on a challenge to future efforts to evict Occupy D.C. demonstrators, but in the meantime, the National Park Service is fielding new calls to move and clean up the site.
Yesterday, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray (D) sent a letter (PDF) to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, calling on the agency to consider moving the protesters in McPherson Square to the other Occupy D.C. site at Freedom Plaza, at a minimum.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued a statement yesterday evening in support of Gray’s letter, criticizing the “National Park Service’s decision to ignore laws designed to protect the public.” Issa sent a letter (PDF) to Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday, requesting more information on how the Park Service has managed the site by Jan. 24.
Absent an emergency situation, though, the agency is restricted from taking action to disturb the site without first giving U.S. District Judge James Boasberg 24-hour notice. A group of Occupy D.C. protesters in McPherson Square sued the Park Service on Dec. 5 to stop them from removing tents; Boasberg is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Jan. 31 on a motion for a preliminary injunction.
Washington solo practitioner Jeffrey Light, who is representing the protesters, said in an e-mail this morning that, “The calls by Congressman Issa and Mayor Gray for removal of the tents at McPherson Square demonstrate that the protesters' fear of an eviction is well-founded. “
The Occupy D.C. site at McPherson Square moved back into the spotlight this week as new reports raised concerns health and sanitary conditions at the encampment.
Citing reports of rats and a concern for how the protesters would fare in cold weather, Gray told Jarvis that, “Since both Occupy DC locations are under federal control, it falls to you to take immediate steps to remedy this dangerous situation.”
A National Park Service spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment, but The Washington Post reports that a spokesman said the agency plans to abide by Boasberg’s order.
The National Park Service has so far allowed Occupy D.C. to stay in McPherson Square, but has said that they reserve the right to enforce an anti-camping rule. That rule, as it related to protests, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1984 ruling, Clark v. Community Creative Non-Violence.
In the motion for a preliminary injunction, the protesters don’t challenge the National Park Service ordinance, but rather argues that Park Police shouldn’t be able to seize tents and property even if some protesters are found sleeping in violation of the rule. The lawsuit claims that by seizing any tents or other property, Park Police would violate the demonstrators’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.
National Law Journal photo of the McPherson Square Occupy D.C. site by Diego M. Radzinschi.