Eight people were arrested in Cesar Chavez Plaza Friday night during the ongoing Occupy Phoenix protest while protesting the City of Phoenix ordinance against camping in public spaces.
Seven of those arrested were participating in the “sleep-in” and an eighth was arrested in the Plaza for possession of marijuana, according to Sgt. Trent Crump, spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department.
Even though protesting this ordinance does not fall directly in line with the main message of the Occupy protests – ending cooperate greed and the influence of corporations on government – protesters said it was still important to oppose this law because it is essentially making homelessness a crime.
“We are doing this to protest the law, and what (the police) do is up to them,” said 24-year-old Phoenix resident Kevin Hengehold, one of the sleeping protesters.
When approximately 50 Phoenix police officers came to arrest the sleepers, about 100 protesters were in the Plaza, much more than have been there at night over the last month.
The arrests happened quickly and without incident at the scene, with police arresting the seven sleeping protesters within 15 minutes.
It is unknown at what time the eighth individual was arrested.
Phoenix Police Department Det. Chris Wilson said the ordinance was created to help clean up Phoenix public spaces – generally parks – where homeless people would live.
Wilson said having homeless people living in parks is detrimental to neighborhoods, specifically for children who go to the parks and play.
In addition, Wilson said the ordinance does not outlaw sleeping in public. There are raised boxes around Cesar Chavez Plaza where Wilson said protesters could sleep without disobeying the law.
However, if they sleep on the ground, it becomes illegal because they are blocking a public thoroughfare.
According to chapter 23, section 30 of the Phoenix Municipal Code, “making preparations to sleep, including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping” constitutes camping.
ASU graduate Elizabeth Venable was one protester who got up before being arrested. She said the point of having people get arrested for violating the law is so the law can be effectively fought.
“You can’t challenge a law in court unless you’ve had someone charged with it,” Venable said.
Tempe resident Nick Katkevich of the Phoenix Nonviolence TruthForce said the protesters were not camping, they were peaceably assembling, in accordance with their First Amendment rights.
Katkevich was another one of the sleeping protesters.
Wilson said that while the First Amendment does guarantee citizens the right to assemble, that does not mean other laws do not come into effect as well.
“Some people are saying ‘the First Amendment trumps every law.’ The First Amendment doesn’t trump every law. Even the First Amendment needs to follow laws,” Wilson said.
Since the first night of protesting on Oct. 15 when 45 protesters were arrested, arrests have been much fewer and less frequent.
Wilson said there are usually a couple of arrests per night. People who fall asleep at the plaza are given several warnings and a citation before they are taken to jail.
The arrests since the first night also have been much tamer, with police simply tapping offenders on the shoulder and then taking them away.
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Clarification: November 23, 2011
An earlier version of this article said eight individuals involved with the Occupy Phoenix protest were arrested for participating in a “sleep-in” at Cesar Chavez Plaza. The Phoenix Police Department gave this information to the Downtown Devil Friday, Nov. 18, but on Monday, Nov. 21, clarified that seven people were arrested as part of the “sleep-in” while the eighth person was arrested for possession of marijuana.