Occupy Providence Eviction: RI Pols Weigh In

Friday, October 28, 2011


The Occupy Providence protesters must leave Burnside Park by Sunday according to a letter issued by Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, and local politicians are indicating that while they support the first amendment, they aren’t going to object to Pare and Mayor Angel Taveras’ decision to take legal action against the group.

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The Occupy movement hit Providence 13 days ago when the protesters began sleeping in the park following a downtown rally that featured well-over 1,000 people marching through downtown. In the days that followed, the number of tents in the park continued to rise, with as many as 200 people living downtown.

Earlier this week, Taveras indicated that the city would take legal action before any police action and on a cold, rainy Thursday, Pare officially gave the group its warning.

Chafee Supports Movement

But while the city would like to remove the protesters, Governor Lincoln Chafee is among the local leaders expressing support for the Occupy movement. Chafee spokesperson Christine Hunsinger said Chafee supports the group’s message.

“Governor Chafee supports the message of Occupy Providence: drawing attention to the extreme disparity of wealth that exists in this country and the worsening squeeze on the Middle Class – both of which he fought against as a United States Senator,” she said. “In the Senate, Governor Chafee had a 100% record of voting against tax cuts favoring the wealthy. He fought to protect valuable social programs such as Head Start and the Pell Grants – programs that are now under siege.”

But Hunsinger did not address whether the Governor believes the protesters should be removed from the park.

“The Governor also has full faith in Mayor Taveras and Commissioner Paré to handle the situation in a manner that is respectful to the demonstrators and in the best interest of the people of the City of Providence,” she said.

Senator Whitehouse: A Peaceful Conclusion

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U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said he understands why the Occupy movement is taking place, but that he hopes the city and the protesters can work together.

“The Occupy movement is tapping into real frustrations felt by so many Americans who are struggling right now, and I hope the protesters in Providence and local law enforcement work together with mutual respect to assure a peaceful conclusion,” Whitehouse said.

The Senator touted his own record and said he believes his goals align with many of the protesters.

In the meantime, I’ll continue fighting to boost the economy and push back against big special interests objectives which I believe are shared by many protesters and many Americans,” he said.

Local Lawmakers: Decide it in Court

Meanwhile, East Side councilman Sam Zurier said he supports the city’s decisions to seek a legal ruling when it comes to removing the protesters. He said he would like to see the court’s ruling before making any other comments.

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“I support the administration’s decision to seek a ruling from the Court concerning the rights of the Occupy Providence group,” Zurier said. “If the Court rules that they have a right to stay, I am sure the administration will honor that ruling. I would want to learn the court’s ruling before speculating further about next steps.”

First-term State Rep. Michael Tarro, who represents Federal Hill, was also vague about whether he supports the group. He said he supports the first amendment, but he also understands the public safety aspect.

“I support the ability to protest as a group, what some call a right, but which I believe is enabled by certain other basic constitutional human rights--not the least of which are freedom of speech and freedom to assemble,” he said. “When a threat to public safety occurs as from violence or failure to keep the peace or any other cause, then a decision to remove protesters such as Occupy Providence is valid. The determination as to whether public safety is at risk is better left to those trained and qualified to make such a determination--the City of Providence Public Safety Commissioner and his designee.”


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