City leaders across the U.S. are feeling increasing pressure to shut down Occupy protest encampments after two men died in shootings and two others were found dead inside their tents this week.
One was found dead on Friday inside a tent at the Occupy Salt Lake City encampment, from what police said was a combination of drug use and carbon monoxide from a propane heater.
On Thursday, a man was shot and killed at the Occupy Oakland camp in California, and a military veteran apparently shot himself to death in a tent at an encampment in Burlington, Vermont.
The deaths come after a 53-year-old man was found dead inside a tent at the Occupy New Orleans encampment on Tuesday. The Times-Picayune newspaper reported that he appeared to have been dead for two days.
Some officials have responded with both pleas and orders for protesters to leave.
Citing a strain on crime-fighting resources, police asked Occupy Oakland protesters to leave their encampment at the City Hall plaza where the man was shot and killed late Thursday.
The Oakland Police Officer’s Association issued an open letter saying the camp is pulling officers away from crime-plagued neighbourhoods.
“With last night’s homicide, in broad daylight, in the middle of rush hour, Frank Ogawa Plaza is no longer safe,” the letter said. “Please leave peacefully, with your heads held high, so we can get police officers back to work fighting crime in Oakland neighbourhoods.”
Mayor Jean Quan said the city would issue another official notice to protesters to leave the camp, but she did not give a deadline.
Since the shooting, anonymous fliers have been posted around the encampment urging protesters to leave.
“Occupiers, turn on your brains and see the harm you are causing to our town,” it says. “You have devolved into mob rule. You have lost sight of the goal.”
City Council President Larry Reid said outside City Hall that the shooting was further proof the tents must come down. He was confronted by a protester who said he wouldn’t be in office much longer.
“You didn’t elect me,” Reid snapped back. “You probably ain’t even registered to vote!”
Reid said the encampment has been a major setback for the area while attracting sex offenders, mentally ill and homeless people, and anarchists.
“This is no longer about Occupy Wall Street,” he said. “This is about occupying Oakland and extracting whatever you can get out of Oakland by holding our city hostage.”
A preliminary investigation into the shooting suggested it resulted from a fight between two groups of men at or near the encampment, police Chief Howard Jordan said. Investigators do not know if the men in the fight were associated with the protesters, he said.
Protesters said there was no connection.
The Oakland shooting occurred the same day the 35-year-old military veteran apparently fatally shot himself in the head in a tent at the Vermont encampment.
The shooting raised questions about whether the protest would be allowed to continue, said Burlington police Deputy Chief Andi Higbee.
“Our responsibility is to keep the public safe. When there is a discharge of a firearm in a public place like this, it’s good cause to be concerned, greatly concerned,” Higbee said.
In the Salt Lake City protest camp, the discovery of the dead man, believed to be in his 40s, led police to order all protesters to leave the park where they have camped for weeks.
Group organizers said many of the roughly 150 protesters plan to go to jail rather than leave.
“We don’t even know if this is a tragedy or just natural,” protest organizer Jesse Fruhwirth said. “They’re scapegoating Occupy.”
Tensions were also high at the 300-tent encampment in Portland, Oregon, which has become a hub for the city’s homeless people and addicts.
Mayor Sam Adams ordered the camp shut down by midnight Saturday, pointing to two non-fatal drug overdoses at the camp.
“I cannot wait for someone to die,” he said. “I cannot wait for someone to use the camp as camouflage to inflict bodily harm on others.”
Many at the camp said they would resist any effort to remove them.
“There will be a variety of tactics used,” said organizer Adriane DeJerk, 26. “No social movement has ever been successful while being completely peaceful.”