The “Occupy Wall Street” movement, now into its third month, has seen incidents of recent violence, including deaths related to drug use, street fights, and suicide as well as sexual and other assaults. As health and safety concerns grow, city officials around the country are moving to break up protest encampments.
Given the widespread nature of the protests, incidents of violence have been relatively few. And in some cases, these appear to have nothing to do with the organized protests related to economic issues.
But with winter coming and some public spaces turning unsafe and unsanitary, many officials say it’s time for them to gain more control of the situation.
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It’s a tough political issue, with some urban officials expressing solidarity with the protesters – at least in terms of the issues of economic and social equality being raised.
Following a shooting death Thursday at the City Hall plaza in Oakland, Calif., Mayor Jean Quan ordered the distribution of flyers warning protesters that the camp violates the law and must be disbanded immediately.
"With last night's homicide, in broad daylight, in the middle of rush hour, Frank Ogawa Plaza is no longer safe," the Oakland Police Officer's Association urged in an open letter. "Please leave peacefully, with your heads held high, so we can get police officers back to work fighting crime in Oakland neighborhoods."
Elsewhere, a 35 year-old military veteran shot and killed himself at the occupy movement site in Burlington, Vt., and a man died inside a tent at the Occupy Salt Lake City encampment, apparently from a combination of drug use and carbon monoxide. Protesters there have been ordered to leave the park.
Officials in Burlington are considering whether to let the protest there continue.
"Our responsibility is to keep the public safe,” said Burlington police Deputy Chief Andi Higbee. “When there is a discharge of a firearm in a public place like this it's good cause to be concerned, greatly concerned.”
In St. Louis, police began arresting protesters who refused to leave Kiener Plaza just after midnight Saturday morning.
The arrests came about 15 minutes after officers warned protesters that anyone who refused to leave the downtown plaza would be arrested, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"None of us are choosing to be arrested," said Brian Staack, one of the protesters, just before he was taken into custody. "We are choosing to maintain our occupation and our right to peaceably assemble."
In Portland, Oregon, Mayor Sam Adams has ordered the 300-tent encampment closed by midnight Saturday.
There have been two non-fatal drug overdoses at the camp, which has attracted many of the city’s homeless, and earlier in the week a man was arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a nearby office building.
"I cannot wait for someone to die," Mayor Adams said. "I cannot wait for someone to use the camp as camouflage to inflict bodily harm on others."
Police said they believe protesters in the Occupy Portland camps are soliciting out-of-state reinforcements, collecting gas masks and may be preparing weapons and shields for a confrontation early Sunday morning when police are expected to evict them, reports the Portland Oregonian newspaper.
"If there are anarchists, if there are weapons, if there is an intention to engage in violence and confrontation, that obviously raises our concerns," Portland police Lt. Robert King said.
As he patrolled the park for several hours Friday, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese said he saw some positive signs that people were leaving, according to the Oregonian.
“We’re encouraging folks to begin the process of packing up and moving to appropriate shelter if they’re homeless,” he said. “If they're not homeless, moving home. We’re seeing that people are actually packing up and moving out and that’s a very positive sign.”
But some protesters there were planning a potluck and concert for Saturday night, many apparently intending to defy the order to leave.
"There will be a variety of tactics used," said organizer Adriane DeJerk. "No social movement has ever been successful while being completely peaceful."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.