Occupy Boston Site Raises Questions Of Free Speech, Public SafetyPlay
Protesters at Occupy Boston can stay in Dewey Square for now. A judge extended a temporary restraining order against the city until she decides whether the city has the right to evict the protesters.
The way Occupy lawyers see it, this case comes down to weighing public safety and free speech concerns. The occupiers say camping outside is part of their message. That should be protected first, and then public safety issues can be more fully addressed.
The City of Boston, on the other hand, said this case is about a group of people trying to "privatize" a piece of public property to the exclusion of others. City lawyers say the protesters never got permission to use this portion of the Greenway. According to them, the encampment is now unsafe, and they need the freedom to clear it when they want.
Boston's fire marshal, Bart Shea, expressed frustration with the protesters' organization and the fact that there's no clear leader to tell about safety problems.
Boston's fire marshal, Bart Shea, told the judge Thursday that highly flammable tarps are draped over tents that are crammed too close together. He said he "fears for the life and safety of every person on that property."
"In my opinion, it's unmanaged," Shea said. "There is basically no fire safety plan from what I can see. The number of fire safety code violations alone are almost uncountable."
Lawyers for Occupy Boston say this was the first time the protesters heard such serious safety concerns. And it was clear Thursday there was a communication breakdown between fire officials and protesters. The fire marshal expressed frustration with the protesters' organization and the fact that there's no clear leader to tell about safety problems.
"We're trying to work with these people to the best of our ability to keep them as safe as possible," Shea told the court. "They're working in a chaotic situation. This is a novel event. They have not approached us for any permits whatsoever. So I'm not going to jump in midstream with these people to do it. What we're going to do is try to work with them the best we can and identify issues from coming onto the site."
The fire marshal said he was not willing to attend the occupiers' General Assembly meeting to tell them about safety problems and educate on them how to be safe. He is willing to send his staff there daily to check on the site.
Howard Cooper, the attorney for Occupy Boston, said it may be difficult for some people to understand how to communicate with this group.
"The General Assembly is the voice and is the ear of the people who are involved in Occupy Boston," Cooper told reporters after the hearing. "If public officials feel the need to communicate a message about public safety, it's been crystal clear that's how you do it.
"Public officials are here to protect public safety. That means something, including at Dewey Square. And that means working with the processes presented to it."
Most of the arguments were about public safety. The judge said the Occupy Boston side didn't seem to acknowledge the city's safety concerns. There was less debate about the free speech aspects of the case, so it was unclear whether the judge believes there's any merit to that argument.
As Occupy movements in other large cities are cleared out and some set up house in private warehouses, the demonstrators in Boston don't know what comes next.
This program aired on December 2, 2011.