The nationwide Occupy movement is targeting Wall Street, but it’s arguably municipal governments that have felt the biggest impact so far, NPR reports. Protesters have staged weeks-long sit-ins at public spaces from New York to Atlanta to Pittsburgh to Oakland. Although the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, hundreds of protesters have been arrested and there have been a handful of violent clashes with law enforcement. Occupy has put mayors in a delicate situation: balancing respect for civil liberties with the need to maintain law and order and limit the protests’ physical toll. The cost of policing the demonstrations has skyrocketed, and there is concern over sanitation and about keeping protesters safe as winter nears.
Law Prof. David Sklansky of the University of California, Berkeley says the protests present a unique challenge for city officials and law enforcement. “There are political questions to be answered here about how municipalities and their police forces weigh not only the interests in public safety but also their interests in maintaining public order and access to public spaces,” he says. “How do they do that in the context of a movement that has many members of the public as well as elected representatives sympathetic to it?” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, supports protesters’ right to assemble but says they can’t camp outside City Hall indefinitely. He led a conference call with seven other mayors to discuss how to handle the Occupy movement and the impact on transportation, city services, and costs.