Occupy Fresno focus shifts to First Amendment

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno County Sheriff's Deputies arrested nine people who refused to leave the park past its visiting hours. Thirty deputies were on hand in case there were any problems, but there were none.

Other protestors moved to the perimeter of the park and paced the sidewalk. That group was not arrested.

What started as outrage against corporate greed has evolved into a fight over First Amendment rights. Occupy Fresno has been going for more than a month but Fresno County Sheriff's Deputies just began arresting demonstrators over the weekend. They're accused of violating a county ordinance that prohibits loitering between midnight and 6 a.m. The demonstrators believe the arrests violate their right to peacefully assemble.

Mai Vue was one of those arrested early Monday morning. The elementary school teacher says she made it through the day with little sleep but then found herself in a tough spot Monday, as she tried to figure out if she was up for another long night. "I don't want to go to school tired, I want to give my students my all. But at the same time, if I'm not here to fight for my students, and they can't fight for themselves, then who is going to fight for them?" said Vue.

The First Amendment does protect the right to peacefully assemble, but Fresno State political science professor Tom Holyoke said he's not sure if the arrests are a real violation. "With freedom to assembly, you can assemble in a public place, but the government authorities do still have some broad power. They can impose limits," said Holyoke.

That right to assemble almost hit a snag Monday when security guards started issuing parking citations around Courthouse Park. The general assembly meeting was briefly interrupted as the protestors rushed to the parking area. The parking tickets were later rescinded after what was described as a misunderstanding.

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