Commissioner says Occupy Portland's constitutional rights trump anti-camping ordinance

Commissioner Amanda Fritz told Occupy Portland protesters Tuesday afternoon that their constitutional rights override city restrictions against camping in public parks.

'The City Council and I believe you are an international movement, and the (U.S.) Constitution's rights of assembly and free speech trump the anti-camping ordinance,' Fritz told dozens of protesters during an hour-long question-and-answer session in Chapman and Lownsdale squares, where the Occupy Portland camp has been in place since Oct. 6.

Demonstrators established the camp in the two parks a block from City Hall after a rally and march through downtown Portland. The group is protesting Wall Street greed and a variety of other issues.

Mayor Sam Adams, who is in charge of the Portland Police Bureau, has allowed the camp to remain despite city policies against camping on public property.

On Monday, Parks Commissioner Nick Fish released an open letter to protesters that said the parks had already sustained $19,000 worth of damage. Some protesters have begun collecting grass seed to help replant the parks, a move Fritz applauded in her remarks.

'That's beautiful,' she said.

Fritz gave no indication that she or the rest of the council was prepared to make the campers leave. Instead, she suggested they needed to decide whether the camp is the best method for conveying their message to the rest of the city. One protester said they would not be effective without the camp.

Fritz was invited to answer questions about city government. Many of the questions concerned the camp, however. Among other things, several protesters asked if the council had an official position on Occupy Portland. Fritz replied that the council has no official position, and would have to hold a public hearing before taking one.

Fritz was also asked about complaints she had received concerning the homeless people who were moving into the camp. Fritz seemed confused by the question and said she had received no complaints about homeless people moving into the camps.

Fritz repeatedly praised the peaceful nature of the camp. Eight demonstrators were arrested last week when police forcibly reopened a block of Southwest Main Street between the parks. No other arrests have been reported.

'Thank you so much for what you are doing,' Fritz said after answering the last question.

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