Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy South Carolina Wins Round One in Free Speech Battle With Governor

Brandon Turbeville
Activist Post
November 29, 2011
In what is a small victory for the Occupy protestors in South Carolina and a major victory (at least for now) for free speech, a Richland County judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Governor Nikki Haley in attempt to remove the Occupy demonstrators from the State Capitol grounds.

The temporary restraining order prevents the protesters from being arrested for “occupying” the State house lawn until the permanent injunction hearing is settled next week.

The confrontation between the Governor and the protesters came to a head on November 16
when the S.C. Bureau of Protective Services, the law enforcement agency tasked with provided security for State institutions in South Carolina, were ordered by Governor Nikki Haley to arrest any and all protesters on the State House Lawn after 6 pm, a curfew she herself unilaterally declared. Haley apparently believes that the Governor has the right to determine who can protest, how, and when they can do so. All of this, obviously, is outside of the rule of law and is a direct violation of the Constitution.

The S.C. Bureau of Protective Services, of course, followed orders and removed the protesters on the evening of November 16, arresting 19 of them.

Haley claims the reason for her decision is that, according to her (and no other credible sources), protesters have been urinating and defecating in the bushes, but also for aesthetic concerns such as the “proliferation of mattresses, sleeping bags, and tarps.”

Haley stated:

'If these folks want to make their voices heard in an appropriate way, they can have at it. But it has to be done within the bounds of the law. They are not going to be allowed to disrespect the taxpayers or their property. No overnight stays on the taxpayer dime. No public urination. No destruction of property. This is not Oakland, California. This is not New York City. Protests are fine. But in South Carolina we believe in the rule of law, and the people of this state should never doubt that as governor, I will enforce it.'
In light of recent events across the country having to do with the Occupy protests, Haley’s comments bear some attention and clarification.

Fortunately, the strong-arm tactics of the governor and the reactionaries in the State Congress have seen the occupy movement largely undaunted. As one protester stated, “It was definitely a shot in the arm. Nikki did more for us than she did for herself.”
First, Haley’s twisted sense of the “rule of law” apparently only applies to the protesters who, ironically, are acting well within the law, unlike their Governor who has violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by establishing a curfew and then ordering arrests of peaceful protesters on public property.

Second, camping outside in the elements on the lawn of the State House is not “on the taxpayer dime.” There are no lodging fees for the State House grounds and, even if there were, the protesters are not receiving government (taxpayer) funds with which to protest.

Third, in regards to disrespecting the taxpayers, Haley might do well to understand that the protesters are taxpayers also. They are not a separate type of citizen, as bad as she might wish them to be. After all, in the midst of a depression some could consider Haley’s Five Star trips to France “on the taxpayer dime” a sign of disrespect.

Fourth, there has been no credible evidence (or even reports) of public urination at the State House grounds as a result of the Occupy protests. In fact, in a letter written to Nikki Haley by fellow reactionary State Senator Harvey Peeler, it was claimed that the protesters actually had a Port-O-Jon at the campsite. This was one of the reasons that Peeler wanted to see them evicted. But, unfortunately for the reactionaries, this goes against the “urinating in the bushes” claims made by Haley. If the protestors had a Port-O-Jon, why would they be urinating and defecating in the bushes? Did they bring it along merely as a stage prop?

The answer here is simple. Like most claims made by Nikki Haley, what we are hearing regarding the Occupiers is simply not true. At best, Haley’s comments and statistics are ripped straight from Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. More often than not, however, they are just invented out of thin air.

This is, after all, a Governor who once claimed that anyone receiving State unemployment should be forced to undergo mandatory drug testing before receiving their money. Her argument was to use the Savannah River site as a microcosm of the unemployment situation in South Carolina. According to Haley, over half of the applicants to a local government facility had failed the drug test and this was emblematic of those who are unemployed today.

The problem for Haley was that this never actually happened. In fact, the claims couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Once one can get past the implications for civil liberties and privacy as well as the irony of a reactionary politician who constantly screams about “cutting spending” suggesting that drug testing be implemented on a statewide scale, one should also be concerned about a Governor that simply makes up statistics as a basis for the justification of such a policy. Or, as she herself has suggested, one that simply believes whatever she is told so long as it sounds good.

In response to criticism or her fantastic claims, Haley stated, “I’ve never felt like I had to back up what people tell me. You assume you’re given good information. And now I’m learning through you guys that I have to be careful before I say something.”

Returning to the Occupy incident, however, Haley’s childish behavior is only making her look worse. Not only has a judge rejected her unlawful removal of the protesters from the State House grounds, but both the Mayor of Columbia and the city’s police chief have even refused to take part in the stifling of free speech.

Mayor Steve Benjamin and Police Chief Randy Scott refused to allow the state to use the city paddy wagon to jail because they did not see the protestors as a threat. Chief Scott stated, “If laws had not been broken, then we saw no reason to assist them [the state]. So we declined.”

Nevertheless, the Bureau of Protective Services went ahead with the arrests. As a result, a lawsuit was filed by some of the arrested protestors against Haley and public safety officials.

This lawsuit is the root of the restraining order against Haley which was signed by state judge Alison Lee, blocking Haley’s unilateral declarations of how and when protesters can exercise their First Amendment.

The hearing for a permanent injunction is scheduled for December 1st and, barring any unforeseen treachery in the courts, it is very likely that the Occupy protesters will be victorious and Haley, once again, will have nothing to show for her efforts but a great deal of egg on her face.

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