The chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party praised Gov. Bill Haslam's administration and the Tennessee Highway Patrol this afternoon for the Occupy Nashville arrests and new curfew policy, saying sanitary conditions had "plummeted to such egregious levels."
"While every American has the right of assembly and free speech, there is a line that should not be crossed," Chris Devaney said in a statement. "When a line of public safety is crossed, action is warranted."
KNOXVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam said he approved plans Thursday morning to enforce a new curfew on Legislative Plaza at 3 a.m. Friday, saying the situation had "deteriorated" to the point that action was necessary.
Haslam defended the arrests of Occupy Nashville protesters for trespassing on the ground that protesters were informed 14 hours in advance of that a curfew would be implemented at 10 p.m. The arrests were made even though a state spokeswoman had said protesters would be given an opportunity to apply for a permit to use the plaza
"It was my understanding that we were going to enforce the curfew from the very beginning," Haslam said after attending a University of Tennessee trustees meeting in Knoxville. "In 14 hours, you should have time to decide whether you're going to stay or not."
Haslam said his administration was responding to complaints from lawmakers and the general public about sanitary conditions and safety on Legislative Plaza.
"Literally, the situation continued to deteriorate here," Haslam said. "It's a question of the conditions were getting worse. I keep using the word 'deteriorate.' That was literally what was happening in this case."
Police have previously made arrests on Legislative Plaza since the Occupy Nashville protest began three weeks ago, but participants have maintained that the actions that gave rise to those arrests were done by people outside the organization.
Haslam, however, said the arrests were evidence that action was needed.
"We don't really have the ability to say, 'Well, these are Occupy Nashville folks, and these are folks who have been homeless in Nashville," Haslam said. "We had an issue on Legislative Plaza that really did create an unsafe and unsanitary ... condition."
The arrests were made less than two days before the Tennessee Performing Arts Commission is scheduled to hold an evening gala in War Memorial Auditorium, which adjoins Legislative Plaza.
Haslam said the event had no bearing on the decision to clear the Plaza of protesters.
Protesters were asked to appear in court on misdemeanor trespassing charges next month.
Haslam said he expected the curfew would be enforced again Friday evening.
"If we're going to have laws, we have to enforce laws," Haslam said.