ST. LOUIS • The fight by protesters to occupy Kiener Plaza overnight suffered a major setback Tuesday when a federal judge rejected their request to bar enforcement of a city ordinance that bans them from the park from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
After more than four hours of testimony by Occupy protesters and argument from lawyers, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson said that the protesters had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of the case. That “likelihood of success” is a necessary element to temporarily block the enforcement of the curfew ordinance until a full trial can be held.
Ruling from the bench, Jackson said that Occupy lawyers had not proven that the city’s curfew ordinance was being selectively enforced or that the restriction on protesters’ speech was anything other than content-neutral.
Jackson said that the only evidence that they offered that the enforcement was politically-motivated was the testimony of Johnny Medina Jr., who said he slept in the park for months before the Occupy group ever appeared.
Occupy members like John Mills, of St. Louis, testified that the tents that they had erected in Kiener Plaza were a vital part of the protest, and a symbol of the homes that had been foreclosed upon.
Mills also said that the tents and the overnight occupation of the park were vital to maintain the sense of community and participate in meetings and discussions with those who might not be able to show up during the day.
"Occupying the public space is the message," Mills said.
Associate City Counselor Don Dylewski repeatedly told Jackson that protesters were only being asked to move to the sidewalks between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and that the ordinance was narrowly crafted to protect the public’s access to parks and safety and sanitary concerns about overnight use.
Late Friday night, protesters also lost their bid for a temporary restraining order shortly before police moved in to clear Kiener Plaza of tents and personal belongings and several dozen protesters were arrested.
After the ruling, Cheryl Compton, who also testified, called it “bogus.”
Compton, 50, complained that protesters had not been given a chance to put on a full case and that Jackson had not looked at the issue fairly.
Protesters had testified that being barred from the park overnight had been a blow to both attendance and spirit.
But Compton, a certified nursing assistant who is now homeless, said, “I think we’re gonna get stronger now because we’ll have more passion.”