Occupy Charlotte accommodation sets dangerous precedent, some say

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - How long will they stick around?  Occupy Charlotte protestors are living up to their name.

Many are still camped out in front of the Old City Hall in Uptown more than two weeks since their protest against Bank of America and other groups began.

And we've learned there may be nothing the city can do about it, at least right now.

Some people, including former Mayor Pat McCrory, are trying to change that.

Charlotte's longest-serving mayor says he doesn't like to weigh in on local issues but this one has national implications and he's not keeping quiet.

So far, he's the first public figure here to speak out and say the city ought to be doing something to move the protesters along.

It started with Wall Street mid-September, now has spread to nearly 70 U.S. cities including Raleigh, Columbia and here in Charlotte.

Two weeks ago Occupy Charlotte made a big splash and a march to Bank of America headquarters.

Once that ended they set up shop on the grounds of Old City Hall - putting up tents (about 30 of them), holding up signs and staying put - all under the watchful eye of the police 24-7.

"As with any protest we monitor the activities to ensure there's no issues with counter protesters or any property damage, etc.," says Captain Jeff Estes with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Having to provide police protection is one of the reasons Pat McCrory says he's speaking out, telling a lunch audience of business leaders he's worried what'll happen when the DNC comes to town next year.

"If we allow that now.. my God it's going to look like Woodstock here," he said.

But Charlotte city officials say right now there are no laws or ordinances that prohibit this type of activity or how long it may continue.

City council could make a rule but so far has chosen not to.

"You can't allow people to take over," says McCrory.  "You allow them to protest that's what our Constitution allows but you can't allow them to occupy."

City councilman Michael Barnes, a member of the council's public safety committee, sees it differently.

"It would concern me to have political leaders talking about curtailing peoples' Constitutional rights," he said.

They have the right to assembly peacefully.

So how long can they stay?

"They could stay as long as they want," Barnes said.  "As long as they're not damaging property or violating any local ordinances or other laws. I have no issue with them staying here."

In cities like Atlanta, where the Occupy movement is much larger, they have put a time limit on protesters.

Atlanta's mayor told demonstrators in Woodruff Park they have three more weeks left and then must go.

Back in Charlotte, CMPD Capt. Jeff Estes says they'll enforce whatever and however city council decides.

"The police department stance is neutral. We protect First Amendment rights.. that's part of our job. We only follow what's in ordinances and policies. We don't make either one," said Estes.

There are rules regarding county parks, which this is not, county parks close at night.

Council members we talked to say they're open to enacting an ordinance should the need arise but so far they've not seen the need to.  The group's been law abiding and cooperative.

No one knows for certain how long protesters will stay camped out at Old City Hall.

The city doesn't want to force them off and embolden the effort so city leaders are monitoring at this point and seeing how other cities are dealing with the "Occupy" movement.

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