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Occupy Wall Street arrests increase. Have mayors reached their tipping point?

Encampment sweeps and arrests are increasing as mayors from Oakland to Atlanta reach a turning point in their negotiations with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

By Staff writer / October 25, 2011

People walk through a tent community set up in front of City Hall in Oakland, California where hundreds of campers have created an Occupy Oakland camp. Campers were scattered by authorities in the early morning hours Tuesday. Approximately 75 protesters were arrested in the sweep.

Terry Schmitt/UPI

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ATLANTA

A few days after seeming to accept the idea of Occupy Oakland protesters camping outside Oakland City Hall by saying "democracy is messy," Mayor Jean Quan ordered riot police Tuesday to move in and scatter two city protest camps in the pre-dawn hours.

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In Atlanta, after originally giving protesters until Nov. 7 to clear out from a downtown park, Mayor Kasim Reed threatened to revoke that order on Monday. He said the relationship between the city and protesters had changed and campers are "on a clear path to escalation."

While the original Occupy Wall Street protesters have won standoffs with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, other city mayors are quickly losing patience with the protest movement, which drew inspiration from Middle East revolutions and anti-austerity protests in Europe as it spread to dozens of US cities in recent weeks.

The rising tensions are testing how far protesters are willing to go to draw attention to their cause – and how long local authorities are willing to let their parks and squares remain occupied.

"The Occupy strategy of [encampments] has been essential to its success in changing the national conversation about economic inequality, but it's a very difficult strategy to maintain over a long period of time," says T.V. Reed, an American studies professor and expert on social movements at Washington State University, in Pullman. "If the protests are seen as becoming routine, then they lose their ability to gain the attention of people."

And Reed continues, gaining the attention of people, many times means clashes with authorities.

For the most part Occupy gatherings have remained peaceful and protesters cite free speech rights as they vow to hold steadfast in their camps. But mayors like Mr. Reed in Atlanta say protesters are breaking city rules that would lead to arrests of other citizens, including a no-camping rule in city parks.

Showing his frustration this weekend, Reed personally addressed one of the de-facto leaders of the movement during a meeting in a police trailer after protesters in Atlanta's Woodruff Park held an unlicensed hip-hop concert.

“I believe they placed lives at risk this weekend,” said Reed, who has already pushed the eviction date back twice after meeting with protesters. “The nature of the relationship has changed.”

Framing the confrontation as police overreach, protesters charged Reed with "malfeasance." One protest supporter, former City Councilor Derrick Boazman, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, called Atlanta police chief George Turner, who is black, a "Bull Connor" character in reference to the ignominious Birmingham police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters.

“I’m just really appalled to see this massive police presence, so we’re calling on the people of Atlanta to recall Mayor Reed for malfeasance in office because he is abusing the taxpayers’ money by having this massive show of force when it’s not needed,” Joe Beasley, the southern coordinator for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition said Tuesday.

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