New York Times Finally Notices Crime, Dangerous Environment at Occupy Wall Street

The New York Times is belatedly starting to commit actual journalism on what’s actually happening at the Occupy Wall Street camp-out in Zuccotti Park. Cara Buckley and Matt Flegenheimer reported for Wednesday's Metro section: “At Scene of Wall St. Protest, Rising Concerns About Crime,” mostly abandons the chirpy promotionalism that has infected the paper’s coverage of OWS, catching up to what local rival the New York Post has been doing every day.


The arrest of a Crown Heights man last week on charges of sexually assaulting a protester at Zuccotti Park added to an already raucous public discussion of lawlessness at the site, where a revolving group of demonstrators has been camped for nearly eight weeks. Stories of crimes and dangerous behavior, mostly anecdotal, have been used as fuel by those who say the protesters must go.


Across the precinct, there has been a rise in the number of crimes reported and arrests made in the four weeks leading up to Sunday compared with the same period last year: this year there were 446 criminal complaints, up from 362 last year, and 404 arrests, up from 323 during the same four weeks in 2010. But the number of summonses issued for criminal activity fell by a third to 205, from 330 last year.


Most uniformed officers have remained on the perimeter of the park since the third week of the protest, rarely venturing in. “We try to maintain a low profile and not antagonize the crowd,” said a police official who, unauthorized to speak for the department, requested anonymity. “And once you go in there, there’s a sense of hostility.”


Yet it has also meant that protesters have had to police the park themselves. This task has been complicated in recent weeks as tents have popped up, transforming the open park into a beehive of private, hidden spaces. Several assaults reported to the police were said to have occurred inside tents. It is hard to gauge the true numbers, however, because some protesters said they had been reluctant to come forward about other attacks.

To increase the sense of safety for female protesters, the activists have set up a large women’s-only tent on the south side of the park. In addition, there are plans to construct a tent for transgender protesters. But some demonstrators are still concerned. Nate Barchus, a facilitator of the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual group, said he knew of 28 protesters -- 12 of them transgender and the rest women -- who had left the site in recent days because they feared for their safety.

Meanwhile, the park has divided into neighborhoods of sorts, with the western edge along Church Street considered the wrong side of the tracks. “The anarchists are over there,” said another police official, who was standing on Broadway and nodding toward the other side of the park. “And the political science grads are up here.” Mr. Burke and other protesters acknowledged this divide, saying some people with drug problems had congregated near Church Street, which is also where the drummers play.

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