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Mayor, (Un)Occupy Protesters Talk


Mayor Richard Berry and several supporters of (Un)Occupy Albuquerque talked Thursday about the possibility of moving the protest to a city park.

The discussion came after the University of New Mexico evicted the protesters earlier this week and arrested about 30 of them. Several spoke to Berry after signing up for a public “chat with the mayor” event.

Berry didn’t make a firm offer of support for the idea of moving to a city park, but he didn’t rule it out either. He said he must be mindful of public safety, in addition to the First Amendment rights of any group that wants to protest, whether it be the tea party or Occupy Wall Street movement.

At least two protesters broached the idea of moving to Robinson Park at Eighth and Central, just west of the Downtown core.

“Let’s keep a candid conversation going,” Berry said. “… America is nothing if we’re not a place where you can make your opinion heard.”

Berry said he wants people on all sides of the issue to treat one another with respect. He’s concerned about people using a city park as a toilet, making noise that bothers neighbors or disobeying a city curfew that closes parks late at night.

He designated a city attorney to serve as a liaison who can answer questions about what’s allowed.

Officials at the University of New Mexico, meanwhile, said Thursday that evicting (Un)Occupy Albuquerque protesters from campus doesn’t infringe on their First Amendment rights. The group began demonstrating at UNM after the start of Occupy Wall Street in New York City.

The law allows UNM to regulate “time, place and manner” of any organized activity as long as approval is not based on the speakers’ subject matter, UNM attorney Lee Peifer said. As managers of public property, the university can consider event safety, sanitation and other uses of the property in approving or denying requests, Peifer said.

That means the university can deny a campus-use permit for political protesters if it would deny that request for a university book club under the same circumstances.

“The courts have said, ‘Yes, the public entity in charge of that public property can enforce restrictions … so long as those restrictions are content-neutral and reasonable,’ ” Peifer said.

After police were called to the protest site repeatedly over the weekend, UNM officials denied a permit renewal request from the group because they said it was creating unsafe conditions on campus. The university Thursday encouraged protesters to apply for a new permit seeking campus access for nightly meetings, Peifer said.

Peter Simonson, American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico executive director, agrees the university has the right to moderate access to campus property, but said his organization is reviewing whether UNM applied those rules fairly in evicting protesters from their camp at Yale Park on Tuesday.

“I’m not sure we read the university’s rationale the same way they do,” Simonson said. “They have raised concerns about safety issues that have arisen on the campus (but) it’s not clear to us that those are directly traceable to the Occupy movement.”

The ACLU will not file an injunction against UNM to allow protesters to return, but is working with the university directly to address potential free speech concerns, he said.

Protesters found a way around the eviction Thursday.

They were able to meet at Yale Park — at 6:05 p.m. — after a faculty member in the Peace Studies program called for a last-minute “teachable moment.”

Such a gathering is allowed to take place on campus without a permit according to UNM policy as long as it’s planned spontaneously and in less than 24 hours.

After the teach-in, dubbed “Teachable Moment by President Schmidly,” about 50 protesters held a general assembly meeting with university police looking on.

The peaceful meeting produced several proclamations, but protesters have yet to decide where else they could start holding their meetings.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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