The head of the National Park Service defended his decision to let Occupy protesters camp out in a park in the middle of Washington, D.C., though he said Tuesday the group will be given one last warning before being evicted.
NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the District of Columbia that protests are a right under the First Amendment, although he acknowledged that some homeless people “have taken advantage of the situation.”
He added that this is not the first time the Park Service has allowed protesters to remain for weeks at a site.
“Whatever they are protesting is irrelevant to our decisions. Our decisions are based on the totality” of the circumstances, he said.
But Republican lawmakers, who questioned whether Jarvis’ decisions were politically motivated, said an exception had been made for a group that for all intents and purposes is camping, not protesting, and contended that the National Park Service was unequally enforcing the law.
“It’s not your job to determine which protest group, how to treat protest groups differently. They are breaking the law. Why aren’t you enforcing the law?” asked Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill.
“Camping is not a First Amendment activity. It is a violation of law. Sleeping (in a national park) is not a First Amendment activity, it is a violation of law,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Relations Committee.