Sympathy for the Devil? The Case for Clearing the Occupations

(Oh boy, I’m probably going to get flamed for this.)

While I didn’t see it myself, the dozen or more first-hand accounts – as well as the videos – from the clearing of the New York, Oakland and other encampments make it very likely that police have used excessive, unnecessary force. (If my language is very noncommittal, it’s because I never make a call on something I haven’t seen live and personally.)

While the methods appear to be very wrong, it would be myopic to claim that city officials have no cause at all to act. My first-hand experience has been solely at Zuccotti, but I saw plenty there.

The tent situation was problematic. Beyond being annoyingly crowded, its narrow alleys and alcoves were conducive to very bad and even illegal behavior.

I have heard so many accounts of sexual abuse – from people with first-hand knowledge – that it’s hard to believe that the rape reported to cops (and reported in the Wall Street Journal) was the only incident.

I have heard accounts from a volunteer OWS security guard of both man-on-woman and one man-on-man rape. Others told me of “sexual assault” without specifying the details. But the pained far-from-poker-faced expressions of one source offered strong circumstantial evidence that full-on rapes had occurred. Over two weeks ago, one witness estimated a dozen or more cases of assault.

And there was certainly drug use. It was hard not to smell the pot smoke. There are strong arguments for legalizing marijuana. But for now it remains a crime that the city can (and technically must) prosecute. Sources also told me of heroine dealing, which has much less popular sympathy.

And while the Zuccotti encampment appeared surprisingly clean and organized, the close quarters, rain and coming winter would make an outbreak of influenza (or worse) seem inevitable.

When I tried out sleeping there last Saturday, I found a lot of unpleasantness (though also goodness). Finding a spot was nearly impossible, and the one uncomfortable patch my friend and I snagged led to an altercation with a neighbor who felt too crowded.

I was surprised how quickly I felt the urge (mostly contained) to get into a full-on shouting match. By morning, I was cold and stiff with a painfully tweaked neck. And that was after just one night in pretty good weather. Imagine 40 or 60 in all conditions.

Beyond the cities’ causes for a clearing, the occupations are also starting to annoy the 99 percent they are meant to serve. This realization crystallized for me on Sunday when I spoke with my sister in LA.

She’s far from conservative and frequently assails what she considers abuses by the government and corporations and the general decline of values and livability in the U.S. But she’s also sick of the occupations because she believes they draw police away from pressing crime fighting, and because it depletes tax revenue with covering the officers’ overtime pay.

There is the argument that cities themselves are to blame for putting so many cops on the case (or any at all). But that’s simply not how she and other people see it. So whether or not their complaints are justified, they are dropping the popular support that is critical to the movement.

The spectacle of “dirty hippies,” drugs, violence and constant arrests also draws attention (nearly completely) away from the serious work on those elusive “demands” taking place in the camps and especially outside of them.

Of course, none of these discussions would likely have happened without the physical occupation. But some people say that aspect has run its course and achieved the original goal.

Should the encampments remain? That’s a question for individuals, not a reporter, to answer. But as an objective journalist, it’s my duty to report all that I see.

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