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Colorado Authorities Unsure How To Handle Protests

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A protester in front of the state Capitol (credit: CBS)

A protester in front of the state Capitol (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado authorities are treading lightly as they deal with protesters who have marched or camped out on state and local parks as part of a nationwide protest against corporate greed.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said even he isn’t sure what legal options the state has to deal with protesters who have camped out at the state Capitol. Authorities in other cities also say they’re a bit befuddled.

So far, mostly peaceful protests have been held or planned in Denver, Colorado Springs, Longmont, Boulder, Aspen and Fort Collins.

Colorado Springs police spokesman Sgt. Steve Noblitt said Wednesday said there have been only a dozen or so campers at Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs and that no ultimatums have been issued.

Noblitt said city ordinances were written to deal with homeless people camping on public property and the city has set up a team to deal with homeless issues, but they haven’t been called in yet. But protesters argue that they aren’t homeless and they’re not camping — they’re occupying city property to rally against government policies.

Breckenridge attorney Jeff Ryan, who has volunteered to be on call in the event police take action in Denver, said people have the right to peacefully assemble to air grievances against the government, but the government also has the right to regulate time, place and manner of the protests.

Ryan said authorities in Colorado don’t want bad publicity as long as the protests are peaceful.

“We live in an age where cameras are everywhere. They’re hesitating because they fear possible repercussions,” Ryan said.

Jason Warf, a spokesman for the Colorado Springs protesters, said representatives met with Colorado Springs police on Tuesday and tried to make their case, but police took a hardline stance and warned they would enforce the law.

“We’re there, and we’re going to stay there,” Warf said. He said the protests are a grassroots effort and that none of the groups in Colorado protest cities are coordinating their efforts.

Noblitt said police have offered the protesters several alternatives, including renting the park or protesting in shifts, allowing people to go home and rest without camping out. He said the department has placed a low priority on camping and that the department has received no complaints.

“What we’re trying to do is apply a high reasonable standard,” Noblitt said.

Hickenlooper told KOA-AM radio on Tuesday that he was concerned about the illegal encampment on state property but didn’t indicate that he was prepared to order the Colorado State Patrol to clear out the park.

Hickenlooper said he supports free speech, but he has concerns about the camp because he was worried it will set a precedent for future protests.

Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Mike Baker said that the state patrol controls state property and the department was trying to determine what action to take. He said some protesters were engaging in unlawful conduct on state property by setting up tents, while others are peaceful protesters who move in and out around the clock and weren’t violating laws.

“It’s a sensitive issue,” Baker said.

The nearly four-week-old protest began in a lower Manhattan park and has taken on a semblance of organization. One coherent message from the rallies has largely emerged: That the majority of Americans who struggle daily as the economy shudders, employment stagnates and medical costs rise are suffering, while the 1 percent who control the vast majority of the economy’s wealth continues to prosper.

- By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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