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VOL. 131 | NO. 108 | Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Greensward Protests See First Arrests

By Bill Dries

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Two protestors blocking cars from parking on the Overton Park Greensward were arrested Monday, May 30.

The arrests of Fergus Nolan and Maureen Spain are the first in protests that began in the spring of 2014.

Nolan was blocking the gravel drive onto the greensward used for overflow parking by the Memphis Zoo.

Police initially didn’t act when Nolan and several others blocked the driveway but set a time limit.

When he still refused to move, police arrested him and arrested Spain shortly after that.

Police had said they would charge anyone blocking the driveway by a certain time with trespassing.

Nolan was charged with disorderly conduct Monday evening and bond set at $100 with an initial court date set for Tuesday in General Sessions court.

Spain's booking information was amended Monday evening to list charges of criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway or passageway, reckless endangerment and resisting official detention.

She is due in General Sessons court Tuesday morning for an initial hearing on the charges. She was released from jail Monday evening pending the Tuesday court appearance.

In the past, police have waited out protesters blocking the drive sometimes for hours. Or cars have been directed to park around protesters sitting in within the overflow parking area. Or police have escorted protesters out of the parking area without arresting them.

The arrests come with a month left in mediation talks between the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy aimed at a long-term resolution to the parking controversy.

The talks have a hard end of June deadline. After that, if there is no resolution, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has said he will act.

The talks have yielded on-street parking on North Parkway and an agreement to reconfigure the zoo parking lot.

Greensward groups, however, have expressed concern about what compromises may be made in mediation. They have viewed the protests on both sides of the metal barrier that marks where the parking begins as keeping pressure on the zoo to stop the practice of parking on the Greensward which has been going on for more than 20 years.

Zoo CEO Chuck Brady has said the zoo’s goal is to end the practice but that a viable long-term solution must be in place for that to happen.

Nolan is part of a recently-formed Facebook group “Fringe Element.”

The group takes its name from a comment Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad made earlier in May describing some Greensward parking protesters.

In a Friday Facebook post, Nolan described the group’s goal as “saving the Greensward, preserving Overton Park and improving the entire city park system.”

“We have a bias for action,” he added. “Applying pressure to power is our mission. Save it, or they will pave it.”

Three weeks before Memorial Day, the group announced its intention to block parking on the Greensward and be arrested for it.

Other Greensward groups, meanwhile, held a “community picnic and cop stop”, a potluck brunch on the Greensward with police and military veterans invited to stop by.

The invitation for that event which included leaders of other protest groups also mentioned the possibility of blocking cars from parking on the Greensward.

“Our intention is to fill the occupied Greensward with peaceful park activities so no cars will be able to park on the grass that day,” the FB invitation reads. “If you are uncomfortable breaching the barricades, join us anyway on the free/unoccupied Greensward.”

The arrests are a week before the Overton Park Conservancy’s annual “Day of Merrymaking” on the Greensward.

In past years the event has opened the entire Greensward to activities.

This is the festival’s first year since the city council approved a resolution that gives the zoo control of part of the Greensward for parking. The area is two-thirds of the Greensward. But the zoo has been using the original northern one-third in recent weeks.

The newly-renovated Levitt Shell also opens its summer seasons next weekend, including a Saturday evening concert by Big Ass Truck

The June 4 Merrymaking event will feature free shuttle buses provided by FedEx to and from the park to handle increased traffic expected as a result. The streets inside the park will become one-way streets for the length of the festival to better handle auto traffic.

The conservancy renewed its use of shuttles and made most of the park roads one-way streets on May 7, a day that featured the Latino Memphis Festival on the Greensward, the centennial celebration of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, a Memphis College of Art sale and the second weekend of the new Zambezi River Hippo Camp at the zoo.

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