Occupy MN: Hennepin County enacts new restrictions on protesters

Hennepin County administrators have released a new set of rules for the Occupy MN participants who've been sleeping and demonstrating in Government Plaza since October 7. Included in a notice alerting protesters to winterization procedures that take place in the plaza every year are new restrictions on the occupiers' possessions, signs, and -- ultimately -- on their ability to sleep in the plaza.

"It is just the evolution as we get ready for winter," says County Administrator Richard Johnson.

Winterization of the plaza will begin on Friday at 7 a.m., when county workers will be blowing out the sprinkler systems and shutting down all outside water access. But Johnson says the procedure also provides a convenient time to address other problems the county has with the Occupy MN set-up on both the north and south sides of the Government Center.

A number of new restrictions will become effective Friday, including the consolidation of all of Occupy's possessions in one designated area on either the west or east side of North Plaza. Any protester possessions that are left unattended will be confiscated. All sleeping materials must be stored under a tarp in the South Plaza. The number of port-o-potties will be reduced to three. Finally, non-county signs or posters will not be allowed to be hung anywhere in the plaza.

If county commissioners have their way, it's lights out for Tent City.
If county commissioners have their way, it's lights out for Tent City.

The memo also warns that once temperatures drop below 25 degrees or a significant snowfall occurs, no sleeping will be permitted in the plaza from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. All portable toilets will be removed, as will the canopy the county erected on the South Plaza.

Apparently, the argument over whether the county will allow tents in the plaza is over.

"There's risk of hypothermia and frostbite and those kinds of things," says Johnson. "First of all we don't want that to happen to people. Secondly, we're worried about what kind of liability we have on our property."

Asked if sheriff's deputies will actually arrest protesters who choose to sleep in a snow drift, Johnson said only, "We will move them along if they decide to stay."

Occupy MN is still formulating its response, but a spokesperson said they are looking into possible indoor locations. Organizer Nick Espinosa says he and a contingent of occupiers are going to set up tents in the yard of a foreclosed home next Tuesday, to defend its owners from eviction, but that his event does not represent a total shift in sleeping arrangements for Occupy MN.

"The plan is simply to expand from the plaza to include at least one home, for now, as part of our occupation," Espinosa says.

Read the entire county memo here.

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