The remaining protesters associated with the Occupy Lincoln movement were removed about 4 a.m. this morning from Nebraska's Centennial Mall by Lincoln Police and staff with the City Public Works and Utilities Department. Mayor Beutler, who observed the action, said it was "uneventful." Only three individuals remained on the Mall. Two left when asked and a third who refused to comply was arrested.
"The Occupy Lincoln movement has exercised its constitutional right to free speech," Beutler said. "The City has allowed the movement to occupy ground on the Mall for that purpose for the past eight months for several reasons. First, we felt a strong obligation to protect taxpayers by avoiding potentially prolonged and expensive litigation that could result from an early eviction. We also felt an obligation to protect the City's reputation as a cohesive community. Even more importantly, we have profound respect for the First Amendment and the right of citizens to freely assemble and protest."
The City and the Occupy Lincoln General Assembly agreed in February that the campers could remain on the Mall until May 1, as long as they agreed to peacefully leave before that date so that Mall renovation work could proceed.
The Mayor said the City has treated the group as well or better than any Occupy movement in the nation. He said the occupiers were cooperative and observed the law, and the Police, Parks and Recreation, Health and Building and Safety departments worked together to protect their well-being.
A group camped on City right of way near 30th and Capitol Parkway left Tuesday after receiving an eviction notice from the City Monday. Occupy Lincoln members who spoke at Monday's City Council meeting said the primary purpose of the second camp was to accommodate some homeless people who joined the movement. The Mayor said establishing a camp in the area was "not in the best interests of the neighborhood residents or the homeless people themselves."
Beutler said a package of legislation will be submitted to the City Council to provide more appropriate venues for free speech in Lincoln. "I believe the proposals represent a good balance - one that accommodates people like those in Occupy Lincoln who wish to express their First Amendment rights by means of demonstration and those who wish to have fair access to the same public space," he said.
"Occupy Lincoln has engaged in a cherished American tradition, older than the American republic itself," Beutler said. "I have profound respect for all Lincolnites who pursue this difficult path, whether it's Occupy Lincoln, the Right-to-Life movement or Tea Party activists. There is respect in Lincoln for all sincere voices. I encourage members of Occupy Lincoln to continue to make their voices heard, just as I encourage all Lincoln residents to speak out. Like the many activists who have come before them, Occupy Lincoln has to make the difficult transition from being purely a protest group to being a political agent for change."