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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Occupy Gainesville members are asking city commissioners to keep Bo Diddley Community Plaza open 24/7.

Activists and commission members have discussed changing park hours - which are currently from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. - so Occupy Gainesville members can stay on the plaza at night.

Members currently camp on the sidewalk next to the plaza at night to avoid being arrested for trespassing.

So far, the topic has not been sent to a city committee for discussion, which would be the first step toward changing the rule.

Gainesville City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said it's practical to keep any park closed for a few hours.

He said keeping the park closed at night reduces the possibility of negative effects to surrounding neighbors and business owners.

Zot Szurgot, an Occupy Gainesville member, said the plaza is meant to be an area for free speech, as signified by the speaker's stone, which sits in the middle of the plaza.

She said she doesn't think anyone expected the curfew to interfere with free speech, but because it has, she hopes the commissioners will fix the "honest mistake."

"That designation still stands, and we would like to see the rules stay consistent with that designation and our First Amendment freedoms," Szurgot said.

Hawkins said he would be willing to refer the topic to a subcommittee when he feels at least four commissioners believe changing the park hours is a good thing to do.

At the moment, he doesn't feel enough commissioners agree.


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