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Is the Occupy Denver movement legal?

An encampment at Occupy London Stock Exchange, one of the many global movements Occupy Wall Street has inspired.
An encampment at Occupy London Stock Exchange, one of the many global movements Occupy Wall Street has inspired.
Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Apparently, revolution has a curfew.

By now, the "Occupy" movement has gathered attention across the country, and even across the globe, but is it legal? In Denver, the answer seems to be "partly." The right to protest, of course, is a constitutionally protected right. What exactly is allowed as a protest, however, seems subjective. For example, camping overnight, according to Governor Hickenlooper, has no such protections.

While Mayor Bloomberg's intention to move New York protesters never came to fruition, the former Denver mayor had no such follow-through problems. Citing lack of permits and laws against camping on state Capitol grounds, the Colorado State Patrol dismantled the protest camps in the early hours of October 14, arresting 23 protesters in the process.

In a letter to state employees, Hickenlooper noted the First Amendment is "critical to our democracy." Nevertheless, he continued, "We also have rules and laws that must be followed."

It's not just Denver. Authorities in Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Tucson, among others, have made arrests, charging protesters with various violations such as criminal trespass and blocking a bank entrance.

Besides camping conflicts, there are also issues between police and protesters who are, by definition, adversaries in this process. According to Westword, the Colorado chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is not only offering to represent arrestees from the movement pro bono, but they are sending "legal observers" to the demonstrations.

As the protests continue, the conflicts will inevitably increase, and more legal questions will undoubtedly arise. But as Rachel Maddow pointed out recently on Real Time with Bill Maher, "Demonstrations are not designed to make people like the people who are demonstrating. Demonstrations are designed to be inconvenient."

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