Richmond Occupiers Haven't Paid Squat

The Richmond, Virginia Tea Party wants a refund from the city. In the past three years, the Tea Party has held tax day rallies in Kanawha Plaza across from the Federal Reserve Building; the same place where Occupy Richmond protesters have held up for the last two weeks. The difference? The tea party forked over nearly $10,000 dollars for permits, city fees and other expenses according to City Code requirements. The Occupiers haven't paid squat.

According to one local attorney, William K. Taggert, occupiers are violating several Richmond City Code ordinances with no objections from Mayor Dwight Jones or other officials.

(1)  Richmond City Code Section 26-390: "It shall be unlawful for any person to camp, tent, encamp or quarter upon any public grounds, parks, playfields, playgrounds or any public property owned or maintained by the city or lie upon any benches located within any such public property."

(2) Richmond City Code Section 26-397(a): "Unless otherwise provided in this section, all public parks, playgrounds and recreation areas in the city shall open at sunrise and shall close at sunset each day of the year." (e): "It shall be unlawful for any person other than a police officer of the city or state, an employee of the department of parks, recreation and community facilities acting in the scope of employment, or any other employee of the city acting in the scope of employment and having authorization from the director of parks, recreation and community facilities to go on, to go into or to occupy a public park, playground or recreation facility or area during hours other than as set out in this section."

(3) The City Code also sets forth fees that must be paid for use of public spaces. It does not matter whether you call it a "rally" or a "protest." You absolutely have a First Amendment right to assemble and to speak your voice and express your opinions. But you don't have a right to violate the law in doing so.

One city council member feels the city should just pay up.

"I guess we'll be writing a check to the tea party people," Councilman Bruce W. Tyler said Wednesday. "You can't treat one group different from the other. It's unfair."

For the tea party to request the "same consideration, I believe, is fair and just," Tyler added. "We've now hit the slippery slope that we never should have found ourselves on."

The tea party has sent Mayor Jones an invoice "arguing that the Occupy Wall Street offshoot group squatting there has been using the park illegally and free of charge since Oct. 15."

Their spokesperson, Colleen Owen, doesn't like the preferential treatment. She said, "The tea party keeps being compared to the occupiers. Well, in the way we're treated, there's no comparison. It's like a slap in the face."

The group's news release slams city of Richmond officials for looking the other way while "the Mayor is allowing Occupy Richmond to blatantly break the law day after day. "Jones said that as a 'child of civil rights' and protests, he had allowed the group to remain in the park."

The First Amendment prohibits the government from treating assemblers differently based on their particular message. In short, no one gets a pass just because a mayor, a police commissioner or any other local authority figure sympathizes with the assembly's cause.

Every informed law-abiding citizen has to keep the pressure on exposing the hypocrisy of the Left. Tea parties across the country would do well to follow Richmond's lead.

Read more M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report

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