Rain, raid fears raise tension at NY Occupy Wall Street

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 27, 2011 4:24 PM
Rain, raid fears raise tension at NY Occupy Wall Street

By Ben Berkowitz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cold, wind, rain and fear of a police raid put New York's Occupy Wall Street protesters on edge on Thursday, sparking conflicts at the 6-week-old camp over even the most mundane points of park life.

The protesters, who are angry about economic inequality, struggled to shield themselves from wind and rain at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, their mood dampened further by suggestions the first snow could fall on Saturday.

"I would rather there was another option," Lael Gillette, 27, an unemployed chef from Rockford, Illinois, said of living outdoors in the park near Wall Street, adding that he has only had two hours of sleep in three days.

Protesters have erected tents and tarps over parts of the concrete park, but appeared to be failing in their battle to keep warm and dry -- the latest in a series of issues that have led to fraying tempers among those living together.

There was also concern the movement's days in the park might be numbered after the eviction this week of demonstrators from parks in other U.S. cities, such as Oakland, California, where police used tear gas and stun grenades on Tuesday.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said there was little the city could do about the protesters until the park owners, Brookfield Office Properties, file a complaint.

Meanwhile, internal strife has sprouted in the camp.

Mediation is under way between protesters and some of the movement's musicians, who were drumming up to 10 hours a day and refuse to reduce the noise to the two hours agreed to by the protesters and the local Lower Manhattan community.

And protesters staffing the camp's kitchen -- which Occupy Wall Street says feeds up to a 1,000 people daily -- have downsized their menu to deter the homeless and freeloaders who have been taking advantage of the hospitality.

The change of fare from the kitchen did not go down well with some patrons.

"Where's the meat at? They ain't got no meat!" screamed one man who stomped around the park's perimeter looking for the sausage patty he said he needed to start his day. He was forced to content himself with a chocolate chip muffin.

A lone New York police officer walked through the Zuccotti Park on Thursday morning, drawing a crowd of protesters who tailed him closely, filming his every step.

"The cops look like they're coming in," said Christopher Guerra, an unemployed artist. There were only a handful of police officers, however, standing around the park.

But crime was a concern. One of the protesters who is part of the park's self-styled security operation cited the proliferation of tents that popped up in past week.

"Privacy causes crime," said Sean McKeown of Queens, who spends his days in the park but goes home at night. "Drug use has gone up."

(Editing by Michelle Nichols)