Occupy Dallas takes city to federal court to continue downtown protest without a permit
Banking on an injunction filed Wednesday against the city, Occupy Dallas protesters are hunkering down as lawyers argue for their right to demonstrate in a city park without a permit.
After nearly a week camped out at Pioneer Plaza, a suddenly iconic spot just down the street from City Hall with a waterfall and a stampeding herd of bronze cattle, the City of Dallas has threatened to enforce park curfews and end the group’s occupation. A city permit could given the group temporary legal cover with the city, but would have required Occupy Dallas to secure a $1 million insurance policy (which would have cost the group a few hundred dollars).
So far, organizers say Occupy Dallas is one of the few Occupy Wall Street spinoffs where nobody has been arrested. But with a looming threat from the city, the group went to federal court Wednesday, with a First Amendment argument they hope will keep the city from reclaiming the park.
In their complaint against the city (you can read it below), the demonstrators say breaking up Occupy Dallas’ camp would infringe on their free speech — and argue that they shouldn’t be subject to the insurance requirement because city law only requires it for events that draw more than 2,500 people. Based on the OccupyDallas.org site, and a couple of visits to the camp Wednesday, they’ve got no more than 200 people in Pioneer Plaza.
Jonathan Winocour, the lead attorney on the complaint, has not returned a call for comment — but in a small gathering at the park Wednesday night, demonstrators were told to expect Judge Jane Boyle to hear arguments on the injunction at 10 a.m. Friday. Organizers say the city has agreed not to move them out until the injunction is ruled on.
Grand Prairie attorney Cameron Gray has volunteered his help, and told the Texas Independent Wednesday that they filed for an injunction for one simple reason: “It’s the only way left,” Gray sad. “Otherwise all those people a are gonna go to jail.”
Gray said that he’s been working with the City Attorney’s office, but so far they can’t quite agree. Earlier Wednesday, City Councilman Dwaine Caraway visited the occupiers to urge them to arrange for the insurance, raising a particular concern about liability for any campers struck by lightning.
“The City of Dallas has every right to insure their special events, and a million dollars is not high,” Gray agreed. “But this is not a ‘Let’s eat hot dogs and go watch the game’ kind of activity. This is a First Amendment activity. To put that requirement on people who don’t have jobs… It’s just another example of the kind of thing they’re protesting.”
Gray, the subject of a 2001 Time story for his relief work in Latin America, said he’s a few years shy of 70 and sympathizes with the “99 percent” cause.
“Even though my dad was poor, my mama was poor, if I wanted to be a lawyer — whatever I wanted — I could be,” Gray said. “That’s not true anymore. The American dream is gone for thousands of people, and they’re upset about it.”