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Occupy Columbia Arrests an “Order by the Governor”

By Corey Hutchins
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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On the night of Nov. 16, a heavy rain was washing away the words on a chalkboard that read “Occupy Columbia — Day 33” as Bureau of Protective Services officers arrested members of the movement who refused to leave the State House lawn, following a 6 p.m. eviction that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley had ordered during a press conference just hours earlier.

“Move, let’s go,” said an officer as he herded demonstrators from the north side of the State House toward Gervais Street. “Move or you’ll be arrested.”

Asked why police would be arresting those who stayed, an officer told Free Times,  “Order by the governor.”











Eviction Notice: Gov. Nikki Haley is joined by Bureau of Protective Services officers as she announces a Nov. 16 eviction of Occupy Columbia demonstrators from the State House grounds. Photo by Thomas Hammond.

About 20 demonstrators had been living and sleeping on the State House grounds for more than a month as part of a satellite version of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Two hours before, Haley had held an impromptu news conference outside her office in the State House where she blasted the occupiers and talked about how the state would deal with them. Ironically enough, she started her speech by touting a jobs announcement by TD Bank.

Haley said it was the gear and sleeping bags and general equipment the occupiers were using on the State House lawn that drew her ire.

“It is not a place to live,” Haley said. “It is a place where you are allowed to use as you want to for the daylight hours. So as of 6 o’clock today, BPS is going to give you two hours at this point to remove your property [from] the grounds of the State House. We invite you and welcome you to come back tomorrow morning during daylight hours.”

Haley said the demonstrators had cost an extra $17,000 to taxpayers because of law enforcement overtime and other related services.

She also read from a Bureau of Protective Services report that stated officials there had to pick up trash left by occupiers and had found toilet paper in the bushes. She also said occupiers had been urinating on the grounds, a claim movement organizers denied.

“It’s all documented,” Haley said when asked for proof.

“We go by the rule of law in South Carolina,” she said. “We are not California; we are not New York. We are South Carolina, and we believe in respect of property and respect of citizens.”

Occupiers who had crowded the lobby wiggled their fingers in a downward position, which is what they do when they don’t agree with what a speaker is saying during their daily general assemblies.

Following the news conference, a U-Haul drove up on the Gervais Street sidewalk and occupiers loaded all of their belongings into the truck in anticipation of the 6 p.m. deadline.

As they did, 23-year-old movement organizer Travis Bland looked on, shaking his head.

“I’ve been telling people that there’s no time limit on constitutional rights,” he said.

As if on cue, someone in the crowd shouted, “Free speech ends at 6 p.m.”

A little after 6 p.m., officers formed small groups on the State House steps, conferring.

Occupy Columbia organizer Melissa Harmon shouted that anyone who planned on staying, regardless of the legal implications, should follow her as she walked toward the Confederate Monument.

Around 6:30 p.m., just as Bureau of Protective Services Chief Zackary Wise ordered everybody at the State House to “peaceably disassemble,” the sky broke open and it started to rain.

More than a dozen occupiers had sat down with their backs against the low fence surrounding the Confederate flag. With the rain falling harder and the wind whipping dead leaves around, officers began making arrests.

“There goes Melissa!” shouted someone on the sidewalk as Harmon was handcuffed with zip ties and led away by a cop. Officers went down the line as onlookers watched on from the sidewalk shouting, “This is what democracy looks like” and “This is what fascism looks like.” The police arrested 19 people.

“You’re trespassing,” one officer said when asked why they were arresting people.

By 7:30 p.m., the State House grounds were bare. No cops, no people.

Local activist Tom Clements was riding his bike on the Gervais Street sidewalk, wondering if he could go back on the lawn.

“When does Haley’s order end?” he asked rhetorically. “Can we go back now?”

An earlier version of this story appeared online at free-times.com.

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