Occupy Protesters, Cops Struggle to Balance Conflict With Sympathies

PHOTO: Police arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters as they staged a sit-down at Goldman Sachs headquarters on Nov. 3, 2011 in New York.
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It was the chant that defined a generation. "The Whole World is Watching" was the battle cry of anti-war demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, as violence raged in the streets of Chicago, and Mayor Richard Daley's police department unleashed an epic show of force.

Fast-forward 43 years to today's "Occupy" protests, and from Twitter to Tumblr, Facebook to Foursquare, the chant couldn't be more relevant as the anti-Wall Street movement spreads, confrontations with police escalate, and reports of crime inside the camps multiply. But what are we seeing?

This week, there were turning points on both coasts, from the arrest of a man at Zuccotti Park in New York on sexual assault charges, to an explosive showdown between protesters and police in Oakland, Calif., leading to injuries and dozens of arrests.

"We go from having a peaceful movement to now just chaos", said a woman demonstrating in Oakland. And that chaos is reverberating across the country.

Heather Gautney, an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University who has participated in recent demonstrations in New York and Philadelphia, says the violence in Oakland has galvanized both sides.

Unlike New York billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has roots in the community, and has given protesters in her city wide latitude, she says.

But "when you create this kind of space, you have to use it wisely", she says, arguing that police "brutality" in Oakland opened the door to new tensions there and in other cities.

That tension is evident at City Hall in New York, where Bloomberg lashed out after unconfirmed reports that Occupy Wall Street protesters are letting crimes go unreported.

"Instead of calling the police, they form a circle around the perpetrator, chastise him or her and chase him or her out into the rest of the city to do who knows what to who knows whom," he said. "if this is in fact happening, and it's very hard to get good information, it is despicable."

Despite the unconfirmed reports, the demonstrators drew praise from the New York Police Department last month when they assisted cops track down and arrest an alleged drug dealer and three alleged accomplices.

And late Tuesday, a man was arrested in Zucotti Park for allegedly attacking two women there inside their tents.

Tonye Iketubosin, 26, alleged attacked a 17-year-old Oct. 24 after he helped her set up her tent and then refused to leave. The second alleged assault occurred Oct. 29 after an 18-year-old woman from Massachusetts agreed to let Iketubosin sleep in her tent. She said she awoke to find him pulling off her pants and that he proceeded to rape her.

"Occupy Wall Street places a high value on the safety and security of the community down here," Occupy Wall Street spokesman Bill Dobbs says.

On the other side, there was a report in Gawker that police were sending homeless people to Zucotti Park to stay with the Occupy protesters.

The purpose of the protest is "to call attention to economic injustice in this country, and the billionaire mayor is diverting people from very serious issues," he says of Bloomberg's comments, and says, "When official help is needed, whether EMS, police or fire, our hope is the city responds."

As the Occupy movement digs in across the country, some of the initial good will between demonstrators and police, itself a rarity in the history of a political movements, has been strained.

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