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Jesse Mckinley and Abby Goodnough report: "After weeks of cautiously accepting the teeming round-the-clock protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street, several cities have come to the end of their patience and others appear to be not far behind."

Oakland police search tents in Frank Ogawa Plaza as they disperse Occupy Oakland protesters in Oakland, CA, 10/25/11. (photo: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
Oakland police search tents in Frank Ogawa Plaza as they disperse Occupy Oakland protesters in Oakland, CA, 10/25/11. (photo: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

Cities Begin Cracking Down on 'Occupy' Protests

By Jesse Mckinley and Abby Goodnough, The New York Times

27 October 11


Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns


fter weeks of cautiously accepting the teeming round-the-clock protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street, several cities have come to the end of their patience and others appear to be not far behind.

Here in Oakland, in a scene reminiscent of the antiwar protests of the 1960s, the police filled downtown streets with tear gas late Tuesday to stop throngs of protesters from re-entering a City Hall plaza that had been cleared of their encampment earlier in the day. And those protests, which resulted in more than 100 arrests and at least one life-threatening injury, appeared ready to ignite again on Wednesday night as supporters of the Occupy movement promised to retake the square. Early Wednesday evening, city officials were trying to defuse the situation, opening streets around City Hall, though the encampment site was still fenced off.

But after about an hour of speeches, the crowd removed the fences. The number of protesters swelled to about 3,000 people, but the demonstration remained peaceful. Leaders led a series of call-and-response chants. "Now the whole world is watching Oakland," was one phrase that was repeated as passing cars honked in approval. The police had gone, compared with a heavy presence the night before.

The official protest broke up around 10 p.m. local time, peacefully, with protesters dancing, carrying American flags and generally celebrating what seemed to be a well-attended demonstration of some 3,000 people.

Shortly after the end of that protest, however, hundreds of demonstrators began to wander down Broadway, Oakland's central thoroughfare, in an unplanned march. The Oakland police, who had been noticeably absent during the protests at City Hall, began donning protective riot gear as demonstrators upped their rhetoric and tried to board Bay Area Rapid Transit trains. Several entrances to the BART system were closed, agitating protesters and adding to an increasingly tense atmosphere in Oakland, which had exploded in violence a mere 24 hours before.

The impromptu march continued west toward Oakland's waterfront as it became more apparent that there was little central organizing structure.

About 10:25 p.m., a crowd of a thousand protesters arrived at Oakland's police headquarters and began milling about. Some tried to put garbage cans in the street, while others beseeched the crowd to remain peaceful. The Oakland police manned the front door of their headquarters and maintained a loose perimeter.

At midnight, a much diminished crowd of perhaps 500 had marched back to Frank Ogawa Plaza, where violence broke out Tuesday night. Some were sitting in the intersection but the police kept their distance.

Across the bay, meanwhile, in the usually liberal environs of San Francisco, city officials there had also seemingly hit their breaking point, warning several hundred protesters that they were in violation of the law by camping at a downtown site after voicing concerns about unhealthy and often squalid conditions in the camp, including garbage, vermin and human waste.

Early on Thursday, a crowd of hundreds continued to chant, wave flags and beat drums. Rumors circulated suggesting that police officers were massing but few were visible. Dozens of tents remained in the plaza.

In Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed ordered the police to arrest more than 50 protesters early Wednesday and remove their tents from a downtown park after deciding that the situation had become unsafe, despite originally issuing executive orders to let them camp there overnight.

And like many of his mayoral colleagues nationwide, Mr. Reed openly expressed frustration with the protesters" methods.

"The attitude I have seen here is not consistent with any civil rights protests I have seen in Atlanta," Mr. Reed said in an interview, "and certainly not consistent with the most respected forms of civil disobedience."

Similar confrontations could soon come to pass in other cities, including Providence, RI, where Mayor Angel Taveras has vowed to seek a court order to remove protesters from Burnside Park, which they have occupied since Oct. 15.

And while other, bigger cities, including New York, Boston and Philadelphia, have taken a more tolerant view of the protests - for now - officials are still grappling with growing concerns about crime, sanitation and homelessness at the encampments. Even in Los Angeles, where the City Council passed a resolution in support of the protesters, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa warned Wednesday that they would not be allowed to remain outside City Hall indefinitely.

Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, echoed that. "It's a daily assessment for us," she said.

More and more, mayors across the country say they have found themselves walking a complex and politically delicate line: simultaneously wanting to respect the right to free speech and assembly, but increasingly concerned that the protests cannot stay orderly and safe.

"We can do lots of different things to help them on our end," said Mr. Taveras, who estimates that roughly 200 people have camped out in Providence despite a city rule forbidding such behavior. "But we cannot allow an indefinite stay there, and we can't allow them to continue to violate the law."

The protests showed little sign of slacking. In Chicago, for example, demonstrators gathered Wednesday outside the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel requesting 24-hour access to Grant Park and demanding that charges be dropped against the more than 300 protesters arrested there in the past weeks.

"He's denying us our constitutional right to not only free speech, but peaceful continual assembly," said Andy Manos, 32, one of the protesters.

Even in Democratic Chicago, officials seemed to straining to allow for dissent, while maintaining order. "We've been working hard to strike a balance," said Chris Mather, a spokeswoman for Mr. Emanuel. Ms. Mather added that the mayor's office had tried to set up meetings with protesters, who themselves said they were trying to find a permanent home for their demonstrations.

Indeed, some city officials said the tensions surrounding the Occupy protests have been increased by the fact that many of the groups involved have few recognized leaders.

"It's a significant challenge to deal with their decision-making process," said Richard Negrin, the managing director of Philadelphia, where tents form a protest village outside City Hall.

In Oakland, where one protester - Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran - was in critical condition at a local hospital after being struck in the head with a projectile during the chaotic street battle on Tuesday, city officials defended their actions, saying the police used tear gas after being pelted with rocks. The police are investigating what happened to Mr. Olsen.

As the protests continued, worries about possible violence percolated.

In Atlanta, Mr. Reed said the last straw came Tuesday, when he said a man with an AK-47 assault rifle joined the protesters in Woodruff Park. On Wednesday, after all protesters who had been arrested were released on bond, some said the man with the assault rifle - who was carrying it legally under Georgia law - was not part of their group and should not have been a factor in shutting them down. "We don't even know that guy," said Candi Cunard, 26.

Protest organizers said many of the troublemakers in Oakland and elsewhere were not part of the Occupy movement, but rather were anarchists or others with simply with a taste for mayhem.

"The people throwing things at police and being violent are not part of our "99 Percent" occupation," said Momo Aleamotua, 19, a student from Oakland. "They're not us, and they're not welcome."

Still, the scenes of tear gas in the streets and provocative graffiti - including one spray-painted message reading "Kill Pigs" in Oakland - have been seized on by some Republicans to try to make the protests a political liability for Democrats.

On Tuesday, for example, the National Republican Senatorial Committee circulated a report that two people living in the Occupy Boston tent with a young child had been arrested for selling heroin, and paired it with comments from Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic contender for Senate from Massachusetts, in which she said that her work as a consumer advocate had helped inspire the Occupy movement.

"She's not only standing with those breaking the law and being arrested," the committee's release read, "She's actually taking credit for them."

The fear that the group's political message was being lost also resonated with Maria Gastelumendi, who runs a sandwich shop in downtown Oakland.

As a small-business owner, Ms. Gastelumendi said she supported the protests - "There's been no bailout for us" - but worried that things might end badly. "The occupiers were very organized and very committed," she said. "But there's other people who are just opportunists."

Jesse McKinley reported from Oakland, and Abby Goodnough from Providence, RI. Reporting was contributed by Malia Wollan from Oakland, Ian Lovett from Los Angeles, Jess Bidgood from Boston, Robbie Brown from Atlanta, Kate Zernike from New York, and Steven Yaccino from Chicago. your social media marketing partner
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