TAMPA — Occupy Tampa protesters Thursday marched from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to City Hall to complain about their increasingly contentious contacts with police.
With about 50 filling the City Council chambers to overflowing, Occupy Tampa protesters complained that officers force them to sleep on the sidewalk just feet from passing traffic, wake them at 6 a.m., videotape them as they sleep and cruise by frequently.
Sleeping in the park is integral to the protest, just like waving signs, they said.
"Sleeping over is an important part of our movement," said Jim Golder, 52, of Dade City. "No one I have spoken to blames the TPD officers for doing their job, but please come up with a fair and reasonable way for the sleepers to stay."
But Christopher Koehler of Carrollwood said that sleeping in a public park is just that, not an exercise in free speech.
"I wanted to take the kids down to the (Glazer) Children's Museum over the weekend, and (was) swarmed with all these people screaming and shouting and waving signs and blocking the sidewalk," Koehler said.
"We've got the Republican National Convention coming so we've got to find a way that people can properly protest and have their voices heard, but without occupation," he said. "The word 'occupation' on its face is not a protest, it's taking over an area, and I think it's inappropriate."
No overnight sleeping is allowed in city parks, but police have tried to work with Occupy Tampa and let protesters sleep along the edge of the sidewalk next to the park so long as they get up and clear the sidewalk in the morning.
Council member Mary Mulhern floated the idea of allowing sleeping in the park, but police warned against it.
"You start bending the rules and then we're just opening up a whole other can of worms," police Capt. Brian Dugan said.
And it doesn't seem to be necessary, council member Harry Cohen said.
"The fact that there haven't been any arrests is a sign that something about the strategy is working," he said.
Instead, council members asked for a report on Nov. 3 on what's happening between the police and the protesters.
But protesters say there is a bigger problem. They want the city to allow them to truly occupy a park, like the original Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, but it hasn't happened.
"They have placed us in a situation where we cannot organize, cannot sleep and in essence are not able to fully express our ideas," said Stephanie Cannon, 24, of Clearwater. "Having a park in the financial district is essential in creating the necessary atmosphere needed to peacefully change the world."