RICHMOND, Va. (CBS Washington) – The Richmond Tea Party is accusing Mayor Dwight Jones of taking a soft stance against the “Occupy Richmond” protesters and is demanding that the group pay up.
After nearly three weeks of protests and overnight stays in Kanawha Plaza, the Richmond Tea Party is about to send Jones a bill for about $8,000 on the basis that “Occupy Richmond” has been using the area illegally and for free.
Richmond Tea Party spokeswoman Colleen Owens told CBS Washington that the protesters have been given special treatment and free reign of the park and have not had to comply with the strict liability and security provisions that the city required of a Tea Party Tax Day in 2009.
As the person in charge of the 2009 event, Owens said Richmond officials dictated the number of police and emergency personnel they were required to have on site and required a $1 million liability policy to protect the city. Owens said that when a Tea Party member decided to call the mayor’s office to see if the protesters had required any of the necessary permits for the park, the city said that “Occupy Richmond” didn’t have any requirements for them to protest and stay overnight in Kanawha Plaza.
“We’re forced to comply with the laws, but yet they don’t have to,” she said. “That’s such a blatantly unequal application of the laws.”
Jones, who is scheduled to meet with “Occupy Richmond” protesters today, is accused of being too lenient with the group, which has expanded in size since it was formed to follow suit with “Occupy Wall Street.” The difference in perception between the two groups, as well as Jones’ background of being a child of the 1960s, Owens said, helped make his decision to not charge the group for every day spent in the park.
“When we were applying for our permits, did the city say, ‘Oh never mind, we’re children of the 60s, we believe in the First Amendment’? No, they didn’t tell us that,” she said. “We’re almost being punished for following the law. We do have a problem when others are protesting in the same exact park and they don’t have to follow the same rules.”
Calls and emails made by CBS Washington to “Occupy Richmond” officials and Jones’ office seeking comment were not immediately returned.
The Tea Party hopes to send an invoice to Jones’ office by tomorrow or Monday.
“The Occupiers are still there and [the mayor’s office] need to explain themselves,” Owens said. “Why is it OK for some people to break the law and why is it OK for others to comply with the law? Why is that OK and why is that acceptable? I don’t think that’s acceptable.”