MINNEAPOLIS - As temperatures cool down a debate heats up at the Occupy MN protest in downtown Minneapolis.
"We don't believe they can take our signs from us," Nick Espinosa, one of many Occupy MN organizers. "We also believe our right to assembly shouldn't have a curfew."
Espinosa is reacting to a new set of rules soon to be enforced by Hennepin County. The regulations state that no one should sleep on the plaza overnight in sub-25 degree weather, there should be no unattended belongings and no signs taped to buildings or lightpoles.
"We're trying to accommodate when we can," said Hennepin County administrator Richard Johnson. "Our biggest concern is people sleeping here and their safety."
Dozens of signs were taken down early Friday morning by county officials as crews prepared to winterize the plaza. In addition from removing signs, crews flushed out the sprinkler system.
"Winterizing has nothing to do with our signs," says Espinosa. "Why are they deciding to silence us?"
Occupy MN leadership has turned to the local ACLU for representation as many feel there has been an infringement on their First Amendment rights.
"I'm concerned about the signs and the sleeping issue," said Terri Nelson with the American Civil Liberties Union. "The county administrators have taken it upon themselves to develop some ad hoc regulations to this particular group and the First Amendment does not allow for that."
Johnson disagrees. He feels the issue is about public safety and the fact that the county is held liable for the plaza.
"If someone slips on ice and falls we can be sued for that," says Johnson.
If the ACLU decides to represent Occupy MN, this issue could make its way to court. For now, those that call the plaza home say they're in it for the long haul despite new rules and colder temps.
"We're a dedicated bunch," says Espinosa. "We have a right to be here."