Members of Occupy DC contend that proposed changes to the District's criminal code are targeting them by prohibiting activities the Occupiers have used routinely since they arrived in October.
Occupiers say they are mobilizing to protest the changes, which would prohibit demonstrators from blocking sidewalks and parks, bar them from returning to the scene of some protests after being asked to leave and forbid them from engaging in "disruptive conduct" in public buildings.
But Councilman Phil Mendelson, who proposed the bill, says the changes don't target Occupy. They are designed to allow District officials to prosecute crimes typically handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office, he said.
Mendelson's proposed amendments will be discussed at a hearing next week.
In an effort to curb "unlawful arrests" last year, Mendelson said, the D.C. Council rewrote portions of its disorderly conduct laws. But that rewrite inadvertently prevented the city's attorney general from prosecuting disorderly conduct cases stemming from protests in the District, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Instead, the U.S. Attorney's Office was forced to handle those cases. Mendelson's amendments moves such prosecutions back to the District level.
"I know the Occupy people think it's targeted at them, but they were not part of the conversation," Mendelson said.
Occupiers say the proposed changes could impede all protests in the District, and they are joining with local labor unions and other activist groups to protest the bill.
"It doesn't matter at all whether they're targeting my particular activist group," said Sam Jewler, a media organizer with Occupy DC. "It's a totally repressive law that's not in keeping with the First Amendment."
D.C.'s crime bill isn't the only proposed law that has Occupiers worried. Protesters also raised concerns about a bill that passed Congress last week that would prohibit "disruptive conduct" in or near restricted government areas, including near anyone protected by a Secret Service detail. That bill's sponsors say they're simply updating existing laws to protect the White House and the vice president's residence, but Occupiers say they feel the law is too broad and are planning protests against it next week.