Skip to main content

Park police can enforce camping ban, judge rules

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:54 PM EST, Tue January 31, 2012
  • A man attempts to tear down the "tent of dreams" tarp; protesters stop him
  • A federal judge denies a restraining order on the camping ban
  • Washington protesters vow to stay strong despite a sleepless night
  • Over the weekend, protesters and police also clashed in Oakland, California

Are Occupy protests going on near you? Share your photos, videos and stories

Washington (CNN) -- Living in a public park as a means of protest is not protected by the First Amendment, a federal judge said Tuesday in rejecting an Occupy DC demonstrator's request to keep park police from enforcing a ban on camping.

Dane Charles Primarano sought a temporary restraining order prohibiting the National Park Service and its police department from taking action against protesters found sleeping in or in possession of camping gear in Washington's McPherson Park and Freedom Square.

Primarano, who represented himself, argued that camping at the park is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. Judge James Boasberg disagreed, saying it is a matter of public policy, not constitutional law.

The setback for protesters came on the first full day of the camping ban enforced by U.S. Park Police. Authorities told protesters Monday that they had to remove camping gear such as sleeping bags and housekeeping materials but could keep their tents so long as one flap remains open at all times.

Protesters said Tuesday that police had told them they had "a few hours" to remove a large blue tarp they had draped over a statue of the park's namesake, Civil War Gen. James B. McPherson. Protesters have dubbed the tarp, covered with stars, the "tent of dreams."

They decided later to let police decide what to do with the tarp. Authorities did not immediately remove it.

Separately, a man attempted to tear the tarp down. He was stopped by protesters. Another man, or perhaps the same man, later cut some of the ropes holding up the tarp. He was removed by police. The tarp remained up.

Protesters who had struggled to stay awake overnight vowed to stay strong early Tuesday.

"I had more fun in the park last night than the whole time I've been here," said demonstrator Amanda Rickard. "We were out here playing guitar, singing, playing drums, Scrabble, card games, you know, just stuff to keep us busy so we can stay here and stay awake."

But one protester said he wouldn't be surprised if the mandate against camping gear and sleeping in the park takes its toll on protesters.

"To be honest, I don't know how long we can keep this up," Kevin Wiley said after a sleepless night.

It was clear protesters did not like the rules. "No justice, no sleep," one protester scrawled on a tent.

Another sign, written in white paint on a blue tarp, said: "Evicted from home by the banks. Evicted from the tent by the police. 99% has no safe place to rest."

But Wiley said they were trying to abide by the rules to "show we are law-abiding citizens."

"We're not out here just trying to have a good time. We are out here for a political message," he said.

Protesters had made arrangements to sleep off-site in shifts, said Rickard, who acknowledged nodding off for about 10 minutes overnight.

In another court hearing Tuesday on a case brought by Occupy DC protesters, Boasberg said he would rule within two days on a request that park officials be prohibited from seizing tents and other property without evidence of a crime, an emergency or a warrant.

Occupy DC is part of a larger activist surge that began last year in New York and quickly spread across the country.

While the protesters have highlighted a number of causes, the overarching theme has remained largely the same: populist anger over what activists portray as an out-of-touch corporate, financial and political elite.

On Monday, City Hall in Oakland, California, reopened after a violent weekend clash between police and protesters that resulted in about 400 arrests. Authorities said protesters broke into the building and committed acts of vandalism inside.

Police in Charlotte, North Carolina, also dismantled several tents at an Occupy camp there.

"We're doing the right thing, peacefully and quietly," protester Malachi Vinson told CNN affiliate WCNC. "We're expressing ourselves in a better way than anyone else would."

CNN's Athena Jones, Joe Sutton, Courtney Battle, Paul Courson, Brian Todd, Dugald McConnell and Stacey Samuels contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
A collaborative effort of CNN and iReport contributors who are documenting the protests.
Occupy LA protesters explain why they think the
Who are the people protesting, and what do they want? Demonstrators in 10 cities share their reasons for joining the movement.
updated 10:22 AM EDT, Wed April 18, 2012
We know they're there, but what do they want? CNN's Christine Romans explains the Occupy movement.
updated 10:58 PM EST, Thu November 17, 2011
A show of strength in the movement's original home was echoed nationwide on a "mass day of action."
updated 5:33 AM EST, Wed November 16, 2011
Occupy protesters were allowed to return to Zuccotti Park, but without their tents and generators.
Whether the protesters have an around-the-clock encampment in New York doesn't change much of the criticism.
updated 7:30 PM EST, Mon November 14, 2011
The author writes that protests are modeling themselves after networked, personal technology with many leaders.
Both movements identify with the values of just under a third of the country, according to a new survey.