Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Backlash Escalates Against Occupy Wall Street Protests

Wall Street protesters find cities' patience wearing thin

By Larry Copeland, Judy Keen, and Martha T. Moore
USA Today

ATLANTA – The Occupy Wall Street protests that started last month in New York City and spread across the USA appear to have worn thin the nerves of downtown denizens, neighbors and businesses as police in several cities are cracking down on demonstrators or preparing to do so.

From coast to coast, there were signs Wednesday that the Occupy demonstrations, which began in a Lower Manhattan park to protest corporate greed and other economic issues, face a growing backlash over concerns ranging from issues such as noise and sanitation to to public safety and general cleanliness.

"I think what they're doing is cool, but I like to sit in the park on nice days, and I haven't been able to go since they've been there," Karen Sanders, 34, who works downtown, says of Occupy Atlanta protesters. "Maybe it's time they tried another approach."

Her sentiments were echoed by Melanie Wells, 41, a Chicago marketing director annoyed by the Occupy Chicago protesters. "You have to detour around them on the sidewalks or fight your way through," she says. "I don't know what they think they're accomplishing, but to me they're basically a pain in the neck."

And by Ann Dumas-Swanson, who works for an architecture firm on Wall Street near the park where Occupy Wall Street began. She says heightened police security restricts pedestrian movement. "The added security … makes it really hard to get up and down the sidewalk," she says.

Police here and in Oakland arrested protesters and reclaimed public spaces this week. In Chicago, police asked members of Occupy Chicago to clean up their protest area in the city's Loop. In Manhattan, a local community board heard complaints from residents about protesters urinating on doorsteps and drumming incessantly.


•Providence, R.I., Mayor Angel Taveras plans to pursue legal action to evict more than 100 protesters from the city's Burnside Park.

•In Minneapolis, where 100-150 protesters crowd onto the Hennepin County Government Center plaza during the day and many spend the night, some residents are tired of the occupation and the cost of providing police services, says Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.

"It's kind of a mess on the plaza now," he says. "A lot of the benches are taken up by sleeping bags and other belongings … but the biggest issue is the cost. I talk to people who are sympathetic to their message but what they see is the cost. The sheriff's department has already spent more than $200,000 (on overtime)."

It's still unclear whether the Occupy protesters can translate their momentum into concrete political clout in the way that the Tea Party did, says Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "It's still probably too early to tell whether they're going to develop enough of a tangible policy agenda to become an ongoing political force," he says. "To be fair, it took the Tea Party a lot more than a few weeks to make the transformation. But at least so far, the occupiers have not yet channeled their emotional state into a specific policy platform."

Atlanta's Woodruff Park was empty and barricaded Wednesday afternoon, hours after police arrested 53 protesters. Mayor Kasim Reed says he decided to evict the protesters because of "concerns about public safety and escalating tensions in the park."

"For more than two weeks, the city of Atlanta, downtown residents and business owners have shown tolerance and patience," Reed says. "The protesters, however, moved from … an initially peaceful demonstration to increasingly aggressive actions."

Protesters in Oakland said Wednesday that they would return to their protest site hours after police cleared hundreds of people from the streets using tear gas. One protester injured in the melee was Scott Olsen, a former Marine, two-time Iraq War veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who sustained a skull fracture after being shot in the head with a police projectile, according to IVAW, an advocacy group.

In Chicago, protesters complied with police requests to clean their area, piling unused signs in a box and sweeping debris from the sidewalk. "We're trying to maintain a peaceful environment," says Shawn Riley, 25, a college student and ex-Marine who joins the protests between classes.

Police have arrested scores of Occupy Chicago members each of the past two weekends for refusing to leave downtown's Grant Park after its 11 p.m. closing time, but police have been patient and fair, Riley says.

Brenda Joy, 36, who works at a Chicago cosmetics store, says the protesters have hurt business. "People don't want to come by," she says, and ask instead that purchases be delivered. "They just take up the sidewalk, and they don't get out of the way. I have no sympathy for them."

Others have no objection to the protests. "It's a freedom of speech," says Jake Gloodt, 22, a courier. "They seem respectful."

Bobby Cooper, a member of Occupy Wall Street's "sanitation working group" in New York, says public urination has been "a problem."

"If we could have porta-potties, we would," he says.

Keen reported from Chicago and Moore from New York

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