Patience tested over waste, crime at protest sites
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) — Fed up with petty crime, the all-night racket of beating drums, the smell of human waste and the sight of trampled flowers and grass, police and neighbors are losing patience with some of the anti-Wall Street protests around the U.S.
In Oakland, Calif., police in riot gear fired tear gas and bean bags before daybreak Tuesday to disperse about 170 protesters who had been camping in front of City Hall for the past two weeks, and 75 people were arrested.
The mayor of Providence, R.I., is threatening to go to court within days to evict demonstrators from a park.
And businesses and residents near New York’s Zuccotti Park, the unofficial headquarters of the movement that began in mid-September, are demanding something be done to discourage the hundreds of protesters from urinating in the street and making noise at all hours.
“A lot of tourists coming down from hotels are so disgusted and disappointed when they see this,” said Stacey Tzortzatos, manager of a sandwich shop near Zuccotti Park. “I hope for the sake of the city the mayor does close this down.”
She complained that the protesters who come in by the dozen to use her bathroom dislodged a sink and caused a flood, and that police barricades are preventing her normal lunch crowd from stopping by.
In Philadelphia, city officials have been waiting almost two weeks for Occupy Philly to respond to a letter containing a list of health and safety concerns. City Managing Director Richard Negrin said officials can’t wait much longer to address hazards such as smoking in tightly packed tents, camp layouts that hinder emergency access, and exposure to human waste.
“They just can’t ignore us indefinitely,” Negrin said Tuesday. “Every day that they haven’t addressed these public safety concerns simply increases the risk.”
Stephen Campbell, a protester in Boston, said the troublemakers are the minority.
“We have a policy here: no drugs, no alcohol,” he said. “Us occupiers really try to stick true to that. Other people who move in, who maybe have an alcohol problem or a drug problem, you know, we’re not fully equipped to handle things like that.”
City officials in Oakland had initially been supportive of the protesters, with Mayor Jean Quan saying that sometimes “democracy is messy.” But tensions reached a boiling point after a sexual assault, a severe beating and a fire were reported and paramedics were denied access to the camp, according to city officials. They also cited complaints about threatening behavior and concerns about rats, fire hazards and public urination.
When police moved in, they were pelted with rocks, bottles and utensils from people in the camp’s kitchen area, but no injuries were reported. Protesters were taken away in plastic handcuffs, most of them arrested on suspicion of illegal lodging.
In New York, the neighborhood board scheduled a meeting Tuesday night to vote on a resolution that proposed off-site portable bathrooms funded by local donors, said Julie Menin, head of the board. The resolution also requested that loud noises, like the blast of air horns and group chanting, be limited to two hours during the day.
“Drumming has been going on late at night,” she said.
The park’s owner, Brookfield Office Properties, tried to push the protesters out two weeks ago to clean it but backed off at the last minute after a public outcry.
Menin said the neighborhood does not believe the protesters should be kicked out. “We do not want the city to use force in any way,” she said. “And we think it’s possible to address quality-of-life issues.”
Fariyal Lakhani, owner of a kiosk next to an Atlanta park where a few dozen protesters have camped out, said people aren’t buying candy bars and sodas, or they want things for free or at a steep discount.
“We’re very upset,” Lakhani said. “There’s no business. Too much argument.”
A 7-Eleven one block from the protests in Portland, Ore., reported a higher-than-normal $6,000 in shoplifting since the protest began Oct. 6. The store has added a security guard.
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