Occupier Rebecca Grant (left) gave LMPD Lt. Ron Heady (right) a tour of the Occupy ICE Louisville camp on Sunday, July 8. | Photo by Jonathan Meador

Less than one day after turning out en masse against an armed far-right counter-protest, activists with the week-old Occupy ICE encampment in downtown Louisville have been confronted with a new existential impediment: Louisville Metro Government.

While fears that the Occupy ICE protesters and hundreds of their supporters would clash with the gun-toting Three Percenters in the streets Saturday never materialized, the encampment will have to fight city officials — in court. If the city is successful, then the week-old camp could be forced to disband or move, paving the way for forcible eviction.

Over the weekend, the city ordered the camp to either comply with what it says are violations of state and federal law or “the City will seek legal relief.” Specifically, city officials called for the creation of a four-foot-wide thoroughfare through the camp in order to accommodate wheelchair access under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On Sunday, the Louisville Metro Police Department hand-delivered a notice to the camp ordering it to comply with the laws within four hours. A follow-up inspection conducted Sunday evening by Lt. Ron Heady, head of LMPD’s Downtown Area Patrol, found that accessibility improvements had been made at the site but some compliance issues remained and that further inspections would occur.

Less than an hour before the inspection, a person in a wheelchair was seen successfully navigating the camp.

Heady said that he would report his findings to his superiors at LMPD and that they would make a conclusion. He did not offer insight as to what that conclusion might be and could not say what the police’s next steps would be.

As of Monday morning, the camp had not been scuttled.

A release issued late Saturday afternoon said that legal counsel for the Louisville Metro Police Department and the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office had concluded that the protesters are violating the federal ADA and a Kentucky state law that they said “prohibits obstructing a highway or other public passage, such as a sidewalk.”

“LMPD asked them to apply for a permit, which would have allowed for legal protest during daytime hours, helped ensure public safety and allowed a process to be put in place for public hygiene facilities,” the release read. “Protestors, who would not identify a lead contact, would not apply for a permit.”

Jesús Ibáñez, a spokesman for Occupy ICE’s Camp Compasión and the Louisville chapter of Mijente, said that the order “is a farce” that amounts to little more than “selective enforcement” of the ADA.

“They just want to kick us out,” Ibáñez, said. “It’s shameful for them to use those hard-fought laws to squash First Amendment rights.”

Ibáñez said that the group has volunteer lawyers who are evaluating the city’s demands and that discussions of using a legal defense fund to handle court proceedings and possible incarceration of occupiers are ongoing within the group.

Following Sunday’s inspection, protesters said their legal team is evaluating the ADA compliance issues, yet many of them accused Lt. Ready of manufacturing new issues which were not included in the initial written notice, specifically the placement of some tent posts a few inches from the sidewalk directly onto Seventh Street.

The Louisville Occupy ICE camp is one of several such protest sites which have sprung up across the nation in recent weeks as a form of direct action against federal immigration policies — specifically the practice of interning immigrant children and families in privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention camps. And like some of those camps, Camp Compasión isn’t the first to feel heat from local and federal law enforcement: Occupy ICE Philadelphia has been dismantled by local police, and Portland’s Occupy ICE camp was forced to move following raids by DHS officers.

Camp Compasión was raided by Louisville DHS police while LMPD officers on the scene stood by, but protesters quickly rebuilt the camp. Currently, the camp sports nearly two dozen personal tents and a handful of large canopy tents, with medical supplies, food and water for members of the camp as well as for homeless people in the area.

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad said in a statement that his officers have been attempting to balance “public safety with free speech” since the occupation site was erected in front of Louisville ICE offices in the early morning of July 2, “but those protesting must also be in compliance with state and local laws.”

LMPD spokeswoman Jessie Halladay said Sunday that if the protesters do not reach compliance with the laws, then the city would ultimately take the group to court over the issue.

The city has taken similar actions against homeless camps in the recent past. In one example occurring in late 2017, Metro officials declared a homeless camp on Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville “an illegal camp,” prompting LMPD officers and public works employees to clear it out with a bulldozer. Police had posted a written notice at the now-disbursed camp before physically removing indigent people from the site. Mayor Fischer halted the practice until February 2018 when the Metro Council established new rules for clearing out such camps.

The city had also tried to quash an Occupy Wall Street protest camp, Occupy Louisville, which was moved several times before disbanding.

Mayor Fischer said that he was “pleased” that the group’s LMPD-mediated protest against the Three Percenters and praised both police and protesters without explicitly mentioning the city’s effort to force ADA compliance.

“I am grateful to the men and women of Louisville Metro Police Department and our public safety partners for their planning, vigilance, professionalism and sacrifices to protect the rights of all involved parties,” Fischer said in a statement. “I am also grateful to the protesters today who were peaceful in their vigorous display of the First Amendment.”

The camp and the movement behind it are emerging as the city’s loudest left-wing critics of the mayor, as the group and its supporting organizations — ranging from Mijente, Black Lives Matter, Louisville Democratic Socialists of America, LSURJ and more — have lambasted his position on gangs, clearing the city’s homeless camps and refusing to declare Louisville a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, as well as expressing a general disdain for trying to manage a city like a business.

Ibáñez says that neither Fischer nor his Republican mayoral opponent, Metro Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, have been down to the camp to visit it and that any politician who wants to show their support for their cause has to prove that it’s “more than a photo opportunity.”

“We’re not going to allow this movement to be hijacked,” he said. “We’re staying right here.”

Jonathan Meador has covered local and state issues for nearly a decade. He has worked for LEO Weekly, The Nashville Scene and WFPL, and his reporting has appeared in Salon, Gambit and others. He has won multiple awards from the Louisville Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place accolades for best news story, women and minority issues, investigative reporting, enterprise reporting and political reporting. He supports both the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals equally.


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