Occupy Murfreesboro set up camp Monday night on the city’s Civic Plaza to protest “corporate dominance of American society." (TMP/ J. Fagan)
UPDATE: One Occupy Murfreesboro protester was arrested early Thursday morning after a check showed an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
Joseph W. Schenkenfelder, 28, of North Rutherford Boulevard, was arrested for failing to appear for a court date. The orginal charge was driving on a suspended license.
Schenkenfelder was taken to the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, where he was held a $5,000 bond. No court date was set.
He also was issued a citation for violating city law, which prohibits camping on the Civic Plaza. Callie Garner and Rachel Davies were also given tickets for camping.
Despite the rain and cold, Occupy Murfreesboro set up camp Monday on Murfreesboro’s Civic Plaza.
They carried signs declaring “We are the 99 percent” and pitched tents in the shadow of City Hall.
But all was not without incident.
The protesters were welcomed by Murfreesboro police officers and generator-powered spotlights.
The dozen or so Occupiers were soon joined by members of Occupy Nashville, who offered support and advice.
When asked why very few had shown up, Occupy protester Stephani McCallum repeated emphatically it was “not the cold and wet conditions” but “people are scared of their government and police brutality.”
Occupy Murfreesboro’s Facebook page called the police presence “intimidation tactics,” but local police said it was to protect the protesters. The Murfreesboro Police Department also passed out copies of a city ordinance “and spoke with individuals to ensure they were fully aware of the rules,” MPD Spokesman Kyle Evans said.
Officers sat in their cars and didn’t interfere with the protest until around 4:30 Tuesday morning.
That was when MPD cited five Occupy protesters for violating city codes about camping on Civic Plaza.
“After all attempts to warn the offenders of potential violations, a police supervisor asked if they were aware of the code and violations,” Evans explained. “After the five individuals responded in the affirmative, the supervisor offered them one final opportunity to comply with the law. They refused this offer. After the many attempts to gain compliance and an opportunity to avoid police intervention, the five offenders were issued a citation.”
And those rules exclude camping, according a city ordinance passed in September 2001.
Specifically, city law prohibits “any person to camp and store personal property on public sidewalks, city parking garage, city parking lot, city park, river trail, Cannonsburgh, Civic Plaza or Courthouse yard.”
The protesters – Mark Vanzant Jr., Rachel A. Davies, Callie A. Gabner, Elizabeth L. Sharp and Benjamin C. Spencer – were cited for unlawful camping and issued a ticket for city court, which carries up to a $50 fine. They were cited again Tuesday night for the same offense.
“While strongly supporting the First Amendment rights of individuals, the City of Murfreesboro has a responsibility to ensure compliance with the long-established regulations regarding the use of the Civic Plaza,” Evans said.
Prior to the encampment, City Manager Rob Lyons offered to waive the 30-day requirement for the group to file for a permit to assemble on the plaza.
Lyons offered to expedite the process and get the protesters approved, but the group didn’t file the required paperwork.
“They may not have been cited if they would have followed the process,” City Spokesman Chris Shofner said, adding the group has the right to protest as long as they don’t prevent the public from access to the Civic Plaza.
McCallum said the protesters tried to find a copy of the ordinance at Linebaugh Library “which is charged with keeping all city codes up to date and open to the public. The ordinance does not appear in their records, and there have not been changes to their ordinance records since 1994.”
But the library isn’t charged with keeping city records, the City Recorder is and, as mentioned above, the city ordinance was amended to exclude camping on the Civic Plaza in 2001.
“There is contingent who have asserted their willingness to encamp, but it remains to be seen if we will be allowed to camp,” McCallum said. As of Wednesday morning the protesters were still camped on the plaza.
According to Occupy Murfreesboro’s website, the group is occupying Civic Plaza to protest “the multitude of problems caused by corporate dominance of our society.”
Occupy Murfreesboro made national headlines last week by heckling former presidential primary candidate Herman Cain at a lecture for MTSU’s College of Business.
The educational event was planned almost a year ago, long before Cain announced his bid for the Republican presidential ticket, said Tom Tozer, director of MTSU News and Media Relations, in a press release.
The event, titled “Leadership Lessons Learned in a Turnaround: The Godfather Pizza Story,” was co-sponsored by the Jennings A. Jones College of Business and the Young America’s Foundation to give students the opportunity to discuss entrepreneurship with Cain, who is the former president of Godfather’s Pizza.
The outbursts abruptly ended when more than 25 students began cheering and yelling back at the protesters in support of Cain, who stood quietly as the incident occurred.
As the Occupy protesters, many of whom are also MTSU students, filed out of the State Farm Room of the Business and Aerospace Building, the audience erupted with applause and gave Cain a standing ovation.