Nearly two and a half years after the city of Manchester evicted Occupy New Hampshire from Veteran’s Park, the group’s case was heard before the state Supreme Court Wednesday. The case hinges on whether the group was exercising free speech when it set up its camp community, among other things.
Occupy New Hampshire caught the wave of protests that swept the nation in October of 2011. The protesters had a city permit to protest during the day in the park, but after only two nights of camping out police removed them, arresting five.
The group contends it was trying to send a message with their encampment.
“What they were showing was that disparate people, from a tea-party representative, free-staters, anarchists, employers the unemployed, veterans, can live together,” says Larry Vogelman, attorney for the five who were arrested.
The occupiers also argue that since they kept their camp clean and free of drug use that they were, in effect, obeying the intent of a city ordinance that banned staying in the park overnight.
The Attorney General’s office argued that line of reasoning would make it impossible for the police to enforce any local ordinance.
Lisa Wolford, an assistant Attorney General, argued if the court adopted a standard of “let’s take them at their word that they’re going to act in a manner consistent with the cities concern,” that would be a standard that “invalidates any significant governmental interest.”
And on the free speech question, Wolford contended, “I’m just not convinced, nor do I think the court should be, that the record establishes that there was an intent here to convey a particularized message.”
The state also points out that the US Supreme Court has already decided that restricting protesters from sleeping in parks is reasonable.