RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Tea party activists on Thursday accused officials in at least four cities of giving preferential treatment to anti-Wall Street protesters, and one group in Richmond is asking the city to repay $8,000 spent for permits and other needs.
In addition to Richmond and Charlottesville, Va., tea party groups in Washington and Atlanta said Occupy protesters have openly defied police and local officials without consequence. A national tea party coordinator echoed those claims.
"If you're law-abiding citizens, they're going to make you follow every bit and letter of the law," said Mark Meckler, national coordinator and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. "What we're talking about is selective enforcement of the law."
Officials in those cities have denied accusations of favoritism, and authorities in other cities say they have had no such complaints. Pittsburgh officials said permits for events related to the First Amendment are routinely issued for free, and groups must provide their own portable sanitation. In Denver, Occupy protesters sleep on the sidewalk, which is legal in the city. And in Philadelphia, Occupy Philly organizers are going to be billed for expenses including electricity and portable toilets.
The tea party groups' claims also come on the heels of mass arrests and shows of force in Atlanta and Oakland, Calif. In Atlanta, police in riot gear recently arrested more than 50 people who had been camped out in a city park. In Oakland, police clashes with protesters left an Iraq war veteran in critical condition with a skull fracture.
The Richmond Tea Party said Mayor Dwight C. Jones' administration sought permit fees, portable toilets and other demands for their events, but has given Occupy Richmond a free pass. The occupation has grown to a tent city, with a makeshift library, a volleyball net and a row of portable toilets. Jones has said that because he is a product of the civil rights movement he has allowed the Occupy protesters to remain since Oct. 17.
"He's sympathizing with them," said Colleen Owens, a spokeswoman for the Richmond Tea Party. "We would never, as a tea party, have gotten away with not complying with the law."
Tea party organizers had to buy liability insurance, hire police and emergency personnel and even keep a defibrillator on site, Owens said.
The mayor declined to answer questions from The Associated Press on Thursday afternoon during a visit to the city's crumbling Kanawha Plaza. A spokeswoman, Tammy D. Hawley, said the tea party groups had not contacted the city about the bills for their rallies.
Jones told the protesters that he understands their demonstration but that he ultimately will have to enforce the city's laws, Hawley said.
Brendan Steinhauser, director of campaigns for FreedomWorks and a lead organizer of a massive tea party rally in September 2009 on the National Mall in Washington, said the group was careful to follow National Park Service rules — for example, providing one portable toilet for every 300 people and ensuring that 20 percent of toilets are wheelchair-accessible. By contrast, participants in two separate Occupy demonstrations in Washington are openly camping on park service property, which is against regulations.
"We basically did what they asked, stayed where they told us," Steinhauser said. "We follow all these rules and we're happy to do that. But there is sort of a double standard in the way that we were treated and the way that these guys are treated."
The complaints underscore the difference in philosophy and approach between the two movements.
"We would never break the law," said Owens, of the Richmond tea party.
By contrast, the Occupy Richmond activists settled in the small grass-and-concrete plaza within the shadow of the Federal Reserve Bank high-rise after a march from the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
"I think the difference is, we just came in and we did it," said Ira Birch, 23, a student at VCU who camps at the park after her classes. "We don't have the money to pay to the city, and that's one of the reasons we're here because we don't have that kind of money."
Veteran political and anti-war activist Tom Hayden scoffed at the tea party complaints and said Occupy protesters in Los Angeles plan to reseed lawns where they have camped.
"The occupiers are committing a form of civil disobedience by occupying public squares, parks and lawns," he said. "They are not seeking a permit, which would cost you money in the first place.
Nuckols reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh, JoAnn Loviglio in Philadelphia and Ivan Moreno in Denver contributed to this report.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.