Mayors Opt For Balanced Response To Occupy Protests
Mayors across the country have tried to communicate guarded support for the demonstrations while stressing the need for public safety when addressing the Occupy protests.
Since the Occupy Wall Street protesters took up residence in Manhattan in September, mayors in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Oakland and Washigton, D.C., have been forced to walk a thin line in their responses. Generally, they have opted for cautious support of the movement with the caveat that public safety must be maintained.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been faced with the largest and lengthiest protests in the nation. On Oct. 10, three weeks after the protests began, Bloomberg said those occupying Zuccoti Park were welcomed to stay as long as they liked. "The bottom line is -- people want to express themselves. And as long as they obey the laws, we'll allow them to," Bloomberg said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "If they break the laws, then, we're going to do what we're supposed to do: enforce the laws."
Hundreds have been arrested as the protests have extended for over a month. But Bloomberg hasn't changed his tone. When asked about the protests during a visit to Jerusalem this week, Bloomberg said he had no intention of ending the demonstrations, according to New York magazine. "We just want to make sure that people have the right to protest," he said. "The First Amendment is a wonderful document. It gives you the right to protest, it also gives you the right to not protest."
On the West Coast, though, encounters between protesters and their mayor have been more confrontational. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was booed off an open microphone stage by protesters who were angered by law enforcement action that resulted in tear gas being launched into a crowd of demonstrators on Tuesday night, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
After being deterred from speaking to the Occupy folks in person, Quan released this video on her Facebook page to address their concerns. "What I wanted to say to you tonight is how saddened I am about the outcome on Tuesday," Quan said. "It's not what anyone hoped for...When there's violence in the city, there are no winners. It polarizes us all. It opens old wounds rather than brings us together, which I understand is the goal of Occupy Wall Street."
In Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed revoked an executive order that has previously prevented Occupy protesters from being arrested. As a result, 53 demonstrators were arrested by police Wednesday. "The protesters will be able to use (Woodruff Park) in a manner that is consistent with the way any person in our community would use the park," Reed said in a news conference afterward. "They will not be treated any better or worse than anyone else."
Reed went on CNN to explain his actions.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino underwent a similar balancing act after Boston Police arrested more than 100 people on Oct. 11, according to Reuters. Menino took to his Twitter page to communicate his support for peaceful protests.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has taken a harder line in addressing the Occupy LA movement. On Oct. 20, in an interview with 89.3 KPCC, he said that the protesters could stay "for now." Earlier this week, Villaraigosa went a step further, saying the protest, which has resulted in tents in front of city hall, "cannot continue indefinitely," according to the Los Angeles Times. He has asked city officials to find another place for the demonstrations to take place.
"I respect the protesters' right to peacefully assemble and express their views," Villaraigosa said. "City officials have been in a continuous and open dialogue with the organizers of Occupy L.A."
Those cities have been dealing with the Occupy protests for weeks, but Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker is preparing his city for its own demonstrations for the first time. According to the Occupy Newark Facebook page, meetings are already taking place and full-fledged demonstrations are expected soon. When asked by someone named Marquise on Twitter if he would support the protesters, Booker had this to say: