Occupy group can protest, not camp

By David Skolnick



Members of Occupy Youngstown can protest on Central Square, but the city’s law director said there will be no compromise when it comes to the group re-establishing an encampment there with a tent, burn barrel and sleeping bags.

Law Director Anthony Farris and Staughton Lynd, a retired attorney and Occupy Youngstown member serving as its legal representative, met Monday with Timothy G. Welsh, a magistrate with the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, for a status hearing.

“We’re being amicable, but we stand by our laws,” Farris said. “We can’t negotiate our laws. This is unlikely to be settled.”

Occupy Youngstown filed a lawsuit Nov. 16 seeking to require the city to return items — including the tent, burn barrel and sleeping bags — seized by police five days earlier because city officials said the encampment violated city ordinances.

The group has had no success in the court system though the police returned the tent to an Occupy member who owns it under the condition it not be used on Central Square again.

A request for a temporary restraining order to use the tent and barrel was dismissed the day it was filed. The group withdrew its request for a preliminary injunction Jan. 19 because the two sides are working toward a resolution. As of Monday, one hasn’t been found.

All the group has left is a permanent restraining order.

At a Monday status conference, Welsh scheduled a bench trial for Oct. 16.

Occupy Youngstown, an offshoot of the national Occupy movement, had a strong presence on Central Square for a few months before police seized the items.

Now, Jeremiah Blaylock of Canfield, an Occupy member and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he’s at the location every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, most of the time by himself.

If the group wants to use the location for a specific event with an expected crowd, it can seek a permit from the city to do so, Farris said. The group is pursuing the matter in court because it wants the tent and burn barrel to return when the temperature drops, Lynd said.

“We don’t intend to be there permanently, but to be permitted to exercise our First Amendment rights,” Lynd said.

This is a case of selective prosecuting, Lynd and Blaylock said. Others have had burn barrels and tents, and the city did nothing to stop those practices, they said.

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