COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley’s Department of Public Safety director said Monday that some 150 Occupy protesters would not be arrested for a peaceful protest at the Statehouse after dark, as long as they leave their sleeping bags at home.
Leroy Smith said the focus for his troopers will be what the Occupiers bring with them and how they act, not when they’re protesting. That’s a position many of the protesters say is in conflict with an order by Haley last week that led to the arrest of 19.
“We respect the power of their voice,” Smith said. But sleeping bags, mattresses, toilet paper and food tables are not welcome, because of health and safety concerns, he said.
As of late Monday, no protesters had been arrested. Occupy organizers, however, called on their supporters in an email alert to bring sleeping bags in a direct challenge to the governor.
“We successfully challenged her, and she blinked,” the email said. “Now they tell us we can protest at all hours, but cannot bring sleeping bags. We don’t believe that our First Amendment rights cease to exist when we enter a sleeping bag.”
On Wednesday, the first-term Republican governor announced that she wanted the protesters and their items gone. She gave them two hours that day to leave and take their stuff with them or risk arrest. Most did leave and nearly all their personal items had been removed, but troopers arrested 19 and charged them with unauthorized use of Statehouse grounds. When the arrests were made the protesters were not in sleeping bags. Despite the arrests, the protest has continued for nearly 40 days.
Rob Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman, said the governor has been clear. “They are welcome — as is any citizen — on the Statehouse grounds, but we have been clear: The Statehouse is not an unsanitary campground. They can’t sleep there. They can’t live there. And they can’t destroy public property,” Godfrey said.
Neither Godfrey nor Smith responded to questions about whether their position Monday was in conflict with the governor’s order last week.
Jason Brantingham, a University of South Carolina student from Mount Pleasant, shouted the words to the First Amendment and a paragraph from the Declaration of Independence from the Statehouse steps. He wouldn’t say if he would continue to protest until he was arrested. “I have no intention of doing anything that would cause me to get arrested,” Brantingham said.
He said he wanted to lend his voice to the national movement to protest corporate greed and the influence the wealthy can have over politics.