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Gibbons: State Can’t ‘Babysit Protesters 24/7’

Among the questions Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons fielded about the early morning arrest of protesters who had taken up residence on Legislative Plaza was what justified the new curfew and demonstrations policy.

It was, in part, protesters’ concerns about public safety and health conditions amid reports of individuals being victimized such as a woman being groped while playing a board game, a fight breaking out between homeless people and others using the area like a public bathroom, he told reporters in a press conference Friday.

“Protesters themselves approached the state earlier this week asking for some assistance to address the problem that they were facing. … I think what the Department of General Services was trying to do was strike a balance between making sure they had their right to peacefully protest, but at the same time, address the concerns they had, as well as others, over public safety and health conditions.

“They probably don’t see it this way, but I think we have set up a condition where they can peacefully protest under safe circumstances. We are not in a position, we do not have the resources to go out, and, in effect, babysit protesters 24/7.”

The policy issued Thursday closes down the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial and Capitol grounds from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and requires parties interested in protesting to purchase a permit from the Department of General Services pending approval of the Tennessee Capitol Commission.

Those permits will be good from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and groups wishing to demonstrate later will need a special use permit that may be issued at the discretion of the department.

Gibbons also discussed how he chose the 3 a.m. timing for the arrest of 29 “Occupy Nashville” protesters and said he disagreed with a night judge who refused to sign the warrants on the basis that there was no legal justification for the arrests.

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