While tensions between Occupy Wall Street protesters and the NYPD have been high, they have been nowhere near as intense as in Oakland, where the standoff bubbled over into violence Wednesday.
Scores of protesters were arrested in Oakland and booted from their encampments — including a two-time Iraq war veteran who was hospitalized with a skull fracture after being shot in the head with a projectile, allegedly by cops.
In Atlanta, police hauled away protesters Wednesday morning and cleared their encampment after the city’s mayor warned protesters they were violating fire codes. Weeks earlier, Boston police and protesters violently clashed.
These vastly different responses to the demonstrations around the country very much reflect the tenor of local politics, observers told amNewYork — and so far, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been fairly sympathetic to the protesters' freedom of speech.
“Way before it’s in the hands of police, it’s really quarterbacked from City Hall,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD cop and police studies professor at John Jay College.
While there have been nearly 1,000 arrests since the protests began more than a month ago, cops have not enforced most of the rules at Zuccotti Park, including prohibitions on sleeping bags and tents.
“It’s a political issue,” O’Donnell said. “The police have to make the politics work on the ground.”
Occupy Wall Street protesters condemned police actions in Atlanta and Oakland.
“It’s a particularly outrageous and egregious attack on peacefully assembled people,” said Bill Dobbs, a press liaison for the Zuccotti Park protesters, though he added, “We know social change is not always clean and pretty.”
The downtown protesters, Dobbs said, are worried about the metal barricades that surround the park.
“It would take just a few minutes to pen the entire crowd in,” he said. “That’s very scary.”
Andrew Ross, an NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, has visited demonstrations in Baltimore and Phoenix, participated in Zuccotti Park meetings, and was en route to another in Tucson Wednesday.
He said police have mostly let the protesters be in Baltimore, while cops in Phoenix sometimes outnumbered demonstrators.
Ross said he wasn’t surprised by the different reactions.
“Police departments very rarely have to deal with public protests tend to overreact,” Ross said, adding the NYPD has handled more than its fair share of protesters.
Although Ross said the NYPD has been “repressive” of protesters’ rights, he doubts their response would escalate to the violence seen in other parts of the world.
“I would hope there are cooler heads among the police hierarchy that would prevent that,” he said.
Follow reporter Marc Beja on Twitter: @Marc_Beja