NEXT PHASE COULD START SATURDAY
Shortly after 11 PM Wednesday, Manchester Police Captain Robert Cunha ordered several dozen Occupy New Hampshire participants to leave Veterans Park, where they had been camped since Monday afternoon. At least 14 who refused to leave were issued citations for violation of a city curfew ordinance. The citation, a minor offense equivalent to a traffic ticket, is punishable by a small fine. However, the 14 plan to contest the curfew as a violation of their rights to free assembly.
Five more, who refused to leave with a citation, were arrested and taken to the Manchester Police Station a block away. They will presumably be charged with criminal trespass, a more serious offense.
Captain Cunha made his first appearance at 9 PM, while a General Assembly was being held on the sidewalk near Elm Street. Welcomed to address the group, he explained the police would evict the occupiers from the park that evening. Standing inside the circle of protesters, the Captain explained that the City would no longer allow its curfew ordinance, which states parks must be free of people between 11 PM and 7 AM, to be violated. He also expressed his appreciation for the cooperative attitude displayed by the Occupy NH group over the preceding 5 days. “If we have to give you citations, hopefully it’s as easy as that,” he said.
Following a cordial exchange of information, occupiers packed up their tents and sent their gear to St. Augustin Church, which had offered storage space.
Backed by a small group of officers, Captain Cunha returned right on schedule at 11 PM and issued an order to vacate the park. In a gesture of cooperation, protesters agreed to move toward the park edge to make processing easier (and to make themselves more visible to the cameras held by observers.)
“You’re not looking for confrontation with the police,” Cunha had said. That was true of most. But some onlookers, associated with the libertarian “Cop Block” group, did seem more interested in confrontation and arguing with Occupy NH participants. (From my perspective, chanting “this is what fascism looks like” because police are enforcing a municipal ordinance is more than a bit over the top.)
But they’ll be back soon. Another demonstration has been called for noon on Saturday, October 22. “This is bigger than Manchester,” Captain Cunha acknowledged. “We’re going to see each other again.”
And for those who were arrested or cited for the curfew violation, Larry Vogelman, a Manchester attorney well versed in civil liberties issues, has offered to take their cases and challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance. The case will start in Manchester District Court, but would move to higher courts for a ruling on whether a New Hampshire city has the right to keep the public out of a public park.