Updated: 19 Occupy Columbia Protesters Have Been Arrested
The protestors have been on the State House grounds for more than a month and will no longer be allowed to stay overnight
Updated post: Amid a driving rainstorm on Wednesday night, approximately 20 law enforcement officers arrested at least 19 Occupy Columbia protesters on the State House grounds who were in violation of an order by Gov. Nikki Haley to disband by 6 p.m.
Several other protesters removed themselves from the grounds to the sidewalk fronting Gervais Street, saving them a trip to jail. However, several of those protesters said earlier they would reassemble again on Thursday and potentially subject themselves to arrest tomorrow night in order to make a point.
The group also discussed continuing nightly displays of such civil disobedience, rather than capitulate to Haley's order.
Those who volunteered to be arrested were cuffed with plastic ties and taken away peacefully, as they and their cohorts on the sidewalk chanted slogans, such as, "We are the people's lobby. We are the 99 percent!"
The persons arrested were charged with trespassing and booked into the Alvin Glenn Detention Center in Columbia. By 11 p.m. some protesters already were being bailed out or released on personal recognizance bonds, according to protesters and supporters on the movement's Internet live stream.
The movement has occupied the grounds day and night peacefully and without major incident for 33 days now. But on Wednesday, Haley told protesters enough was enough. The state will allow them to assemble during daylight hours, but protesters can no longer stay overnight on the grounds, Haley announced in a press conference at the State House shortly after 4 p.m.
Haley said she wanted people to express their feelings, "whether it's something I agree with or disagree with. We want you to do that. It's your right to do that, and we expect you, as Americans, to do that. But what we don't want is what has been happening here at the State House," she said.
"We have mattresses on the ground, we have toilet paper in the bushes, we have plants that have been messed up, we have things that have been causing a problem in terms of the respect of the grounds of the State House," Haley said.
"And we need to have permission," she added, noting that protesters have been occupying the grounds without a permit, even though the movement had originally been told it didn't need one. "We go by the rule of law in South Carolina. We are not California. We are not New York. We are South Carolina and we believe in the respect of property and the respect of citizens. [The grounds] are not a place for you to live, they are a place for you to use during daylight hours."
Haley's announcement came just days after lawmakers such as Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington), and Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney), had complained about the overnight use of the capitol grounds.
"Your unions are funding that," she said late last month at an aerospace trade conference in Charleston. "That is their way to distract you. That is their way to distract the American people and make them think the corporations are the bad guys. The second you identify it's the unions doing this, all of a sudden everybody pushes it off."
On Wednesday, Haley also cited the cost to the state in announcing her decision to set an evening curfew. So far, she said, the costs associated with allowing protesters to stay overnight had cost $17,000, and would cost upwards of $70,000 by February.
Additonally, Haley noted that this was a time of year that children and families would be visiting the State House grounds in greater numbers. The governor's Carolighting ceremony is planned for Nov. 28 at the State House. The 45th annual ceremony kicks off the holiday season in Columbia.
Travis Bland, one of the key players in the local occupation movement — and one of those arrested — said after Haley's conference: "It's a sad day when our First Amendment rights get trampled on because of partisan interests and to make a political point.
"We all know Gov. Haley is vying for national [attention]," Bland added. "It's no secret. It's obvious. You want to know about someone who has cost the taxpayers' dollars? It's her, jet-setting around our country doing nothing. That's what's costing the taxpayers' money."
The "crackdown," Bland said, especially in the case of Occupy Columbia, is unnecessary. "It's a very sad day."
Fellow protester and Marine Corps veteran Walid Hakim, who also was arrested, at first debated whether he wanted to risk arrest, noting he was scheduled to have visitation with his young son this weekend. Eventually, he decided the cause was worth it, and said the occupation to him was just as important as serving his country in the military.
"I need to protest for my rights and for yours," he said. "But I don't how I can do that if I'm not here and don't take a stand."
And for Hakim, there was added significance of occupying the State House grounds. Not just political, but personal as well.
Not far away from where Hakim was standing lay the gravesite of Swanson Lunsford, who died in 1799 and is buried on the grounds. Though Palestinian and Greek on his father's side, Hakim said his mother, Dixie, is pure Southern. And Lunsford, he claimed, is his five-great grandfather whose family once claimed title to the land he and his compatriots now occupied and were being evicted from.
"It's ironic," he said, smiling, "but it looks like I'm going to be arrested on land my family once owned."
Original post: Gov. Nikki Haley at a 4 p.m. press conference has announced Occupy Columbia members must be off the Statehouse grounds by 6 p.m.
On the grounds for 33 days, Haley said the group has not requested the necessary permission and has damaged the grounds, costing thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds.
She said the protesters can come back with their voices in the morning, but cannot bring their mattresses or tents. Anyone still on the grounds at 6 p.m. will be charged, she said.
Here's our previous coverage of the people behind the effort.