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.Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo
Police arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters as they staged a sit-down at Goldman Sachs headquarters on Nov. 3, 2011 in New York.

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.

Last month's severe injury to an Iraq War veteran at the hands of Oakland police, which was captured on video that was posted on the Internet and widely picked up by the media, could be a turning point.

The relationship between protesters and police had been relatively cordial before that incident, despite the mass arrest of protesters during a march on New York's Brooklyn Bridge in September and other spates.

Everything changed with the Oakland incident, with the dealings between both parties becoming a lot more acrimonious since then. The day after that, protesters in New York confronted police as they marched down Broadway, ignoring calls to stay on the sidewalks. They openly mocked police, hurling insults about how the protesters were like the cops, but the police had "sold out."

"Who are you protecting?" and "You serve your enemy," the demonstrators chanted.

The following day the city moved in and removed Occupy Wall Street's heating supplies, saying having the equipment in the park was a public health risk.

The violence in Oakland has been a flashpoint for New York police.

Ed Mullins, who heads the 5,000-member Sergeant's Benevolent Association of the NYPD, warned the protesters not to take their demonstrations to attacks on police.

"In light of the growing violence attendant to the Occupy movements across the country, particularly as evidenced by the recent events in Oakland, I am compelled to place these so-called 'occupiers' on notice that physical assaults on police officers will not be tolerated," he said.

"I am deeply concerned that protesters will be emboldened by the recent rash of violent acts against police officers in other cities," he said. "New York's police officers are working around the clock as the already overburdened economy in New York is being drained by 'occupiers' who intentionally and maliciously instigate needless and violent confrontations with the police."

At Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street spokesman Anup Desai says what's happening 2,900 miles away in Oakland is having an impact on demonstrators in New York.

"There are no two further cities almost than New York City and Oakland, and together, we were like, you know what? What happened there happened here," he said.

As things turn more adversarial, Gautney says it creates an "interesting tension" for police, who may be caught in the middle.

"Whether or not they agree with (the demonstrators') ideas, they work at the behest of mayors and district attorneys," he said.

It's a point made by Oakland Police Officers Association President Don Arotzarena after the mayor announced that city employees -- with the exception of police -- would be allowed to take Wednesday off to participate in a general strike called by Occupy Oakland.

"I see us being made out to be the bad guy again," he said. "Remember this, we're just taking orders from the mayor's office."

Gautney says she sees things going "probably nowhere good" between demonstrators and police. It is clear local officials are getting more irritated and, at some point, they will be ordering more police moves against the Occupy protesters, she says.

But Desai says the demonstrators are not going anywhere.

"We forget, just 60 years ago it was against the law for black and white people to east together," he said. "So when people say 'oh, you're' breaking the law', well, some laws need to be broken. I don't set timetables, just goals, and we're going to achieve them."

All setting the stage for what could be a long, cold and very tense winter.

ABC News' Seniboye Tienabeso contributed to this report.