Security officers allowed Occupy Columbia protesters to stay on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse long after a 6pm curfew Monday night. The move came less than a week after Governor Nikki Haley said protesters could not stay on the property past that time.
Over 150 people gathered on the north side steps of the Capital building as the time came, constantly chanting and calling “mic check!”
Department of Public Safety chief Maj. Leroy Smith, who oversees the Capitol complex’s Bureau of Protective Services, told reporters that officers would not arrest the protesters unless they set up sleeping bags or food tables on the grounds. The protesters took that as a sign of success.
19 protesters were arrested Wednesday night after they refused to honor the curfew announced only hours earlier that day.
There were fewer than 10 officers on the grounds Monday night as the Occupy rally got underway. University of South Carolina student Dillon Corbett is one of the leaders of the group. He said he was prepared to be arrested, “It’ll just serve to embolden and empower us one again.”
During their assemblies, the protesters constantly maintained that they had a right to be on the grounds and that they were protected by the First Amendment.
Jorg Hohmann was among them. Hohmann was at the Occupy event for the first time since its opening weekend last month. He came to show support for the group, “I definitely didn’t want to get arrested, I can tell you that,” he said. “I’m glad the police aren’t moving in. That says a lot.”
As of 9pm Monday, a small crowd was still gathered on the grounds. Several members, including Corbett, were planning to use sleeping bags and risk arrest.