Author: Holden, Dominic
Date published: November 30, 2011
Journal code: STRR
Despite growing concerns about threats to student safety and a unanimous vote on November 23 by the local community college district board to evict an Occupy Seattle encampment at Seattle Central Community College, the demonstrators may get to hold their ground for another week.
Or even longer.
Protesters' lawyers have filed a lawsuit to challenge the eviction, and now, college officials say, the village of tents on the Capitol Hill campus remains in limbo.
It's a delay that may upset people who pushed hard to remove the protesters swiftly.
"I have been harassed four times trying to walk through campus," a student named Julie told the board before the vote. She echoed the primary angle of several critics-including school staffers-concerned about the dangers of an encampment linked to an alleged attempted sexual assault earlier this month, drug use, public defecation, and dogs. Julie said she complained to school officials but felt she was "held hostage because we don't have the legal right to evict them." (The Washington Administrative Code, which governs the Seattle community college properties, lacks language that explicitly bans camping.) Even student council executive Zack Robertson- who supports Occupy Wall Street-said, "We don't feel it is safe to have Occupy Seattle on our campus anymore."
All five members of the college district's board of trustees voted on November 23 to approve an emergency rule in Olympia that would explicitly ban camping on their campuses. Assistant attorney general Derek Edwards filed the order that afternoon, and college officials intended to provide the campers with a 72-hour eviction notice early this week.
However, protesters filed for an injunction in Thurston County Superior Court that afternoon. Alleging that complaints of unsanitary conditions were faulty, the suit claims that the ban on tents "interferes with Plaintiffs' exercise of speech and assembly rights under the First Amendment."
After Judge Christine Pomeroy set a court hearing for December 2 at 2:30 p.m., community college district chancellor Jill Wakefield announced, "We agreed that the college will not post the emergency rule prohibiting camping on campus until the hearing."
Even if they win, school officials say the eviction would not begin until the following Monday at the soonest. College spokeswoman Patricia Paquette says that while the 72-hour notice is a minimum requirement to comply with the emergency rule, "it does not imply immediate eviction." Asked if the college would use force or pepper spray to remove protesters, Wakefield made no promises, only saying, "I am going to do everything I can to ensure a peaceful process."
But the protesters aren't convinced. With only three days remaining before the court hearing, Maria Arceo Gardner sat among the tents and explained the rumors going around camp: "They think people are going to come in with bulldozers."