Metro Councilwoman Attica Woodson Scott, D-1, is concerned about an ordinance being proposed by Mayor Greg Fischer that would ban overnight camping in response to the Occupy Louisville protest.
Last month, the city ousted protestors from Founder’s Square in downtown without incident. But because the space is not considered an official Metro Park, there is no law prohibiting overnight camping that created a legal tug-of-ware between the Fischer administration and activists.
The mayor says demonstrators exposed a loophole in city law, and he wants to change that citing public safety, health concerns and property damage caused by activists. It would ban camping in green and open areas smaller than three acres.
Scott says Metro Government is trying to shut down voices that make it uncomfortable, adding city leaders should be trying to understand the message of Occupy Louisville instead of building up walls of division.
“I’m not interested in taking away the opportunity for our constituents to publicly demonstrate, whether it’s in a large or small park. I believe it’s one of the few means that they have of really bringing to light and to attention some of the issues that we often overlook such as poverty, homelessness, housing and education inequity,” she says.
The bill will be given a first read before the full council on Thursday and assigned to the public safety committee for consideration. It is being co-sponsored by council members Rick Blackwell, D-12, and Madonna Flood, D-24, who have concurred with Fischer that using those public spaces poses a health and safety risk.
Democratic Caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt says the remaining members want to get a better understanding of the mayor’s ordinance and haven’t had a chance to discuss it as a group, but that Democrats have voiced concerns about overnight encampments.
“As far as free speech, people have the right to protest but you have to look at the abuse of people using a particular park where there’s no responsibility or accountability of people having respect for that property was,” says Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, chairman of the council’s GOP caucus. “There was definitely abuse of government property. And I think there was an abuse by Occupy Louisville of that and this ordinance helps curtail it.”
Both Fischer and the ordinance’s sponsors argue that people will still be permitted to protest and assemble in those public spaces. But Scott says Fischer should be living up to his call for a more compassionate city, and think about the issues demonstrators were trying to raise.
“I wonder what we mean oftentimes by that word: compassionate. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a word or are we really working toward being a compassionate city,” she says. “Whenever we try to silence people, to me that’s the opposite of what compassion is supposed to be about. Compassion means we listen to you and we hear you when you rise up and speak up.”