NEW YORK - When the Occupy Wall Street protest burst forth in New York's Financial District in September, Mayor Michael Bloomberg started off an ardent supporter of the right to protest. But as the weeks have gone by and complaints from lawmakers and residents have mounted, he's started to change his tune.
Bloomberg cited unconfirmed reports Thursday that Occupy Wall Street protesters are allowing crimes to go unreported and are instead chasing wrongdoers out of their park encampment, but he declined to say whether the information could be grounds for police to forcibly evict protesters from the site.
"Instead of calling the police, they form a circle around the perpetrator, chastise him or her and chase him or her out into the rest of the city to do who-knows-what to who-knows-whom," Bloomberg said, although he noted the city was uncertain of the reports' accuracy. "If this is in fact happening - and it's very hard to get good information - it is despicable."
Protester Justin Stone-Diaz said he knew of two sexual assaults after which the female victims refused to file charges, leaving their fellow protesters and the police unable to take further action. The protesters gave the police department's liaison detailed information about the incidents, he said.
"As an organization we spent the whole day yesterday trying to convince them to press charges," Stone-Diaz said, but the women refused after initially getting what Stone-Diaz called "bad advice" from other protesters who urged the women not to work with police.
With no legal way to force the accused men out of the park, some protesters distributed flyers with their photos in an attempt to get them to leave so the women would not have to see them, Stone-Diaz said.
Fellow protesters admit all they did was surround the suspect, and shame them away.
"It's being presented in a way that we're harboring them - those people are being kicked out," Brent Schmidt said.
Some protesters said the problem is not rampant violence but isolated incidents, where calls to police (they say) have gone unanswered.
"Well, actually we have called 911 and we've been hung up on the second we mention Zuccotti Park," one protester told CBS Station WCBS.
At a question-and-answer session with reporters Thursday, Bloomberg noted that a protester who served food at the camp has been arrested on charges of sexually abusing a woman and is also a suspect in a rape at the protest site.
Asked if the reports of criminality and what he said was protesters' continued refusal to stay on the sidewalks during marches could justify a move by the New York Police Department to evict protesters, the mayor gave no direct answer.
"This administration will take appropriate steps whenever we think (it's) appropriate to keep this city safe and at the same time to protect peoples' right to protest," he said.
Bloomberg went on to say: "It is one of these problems that there is no easy answer. But there is a right answer and the right answer is allow people to protest, but at the same time enforce public safety, provide public safety and quality of life issues, and we will continue to do that."
Mayor Bloomberg's views on the protests have been "evolving," reports WCBS correspondent Marcia Kramer. Contrast the mayor's comment three weeks ago ("The bottom line is people want to express themselves and as long as they obey the law we'll allow them to do it") ... with what the mayor said Wednesday: "This isn't an occupation of Wall Street. It is an occupation of a growing, vibrant residential neighborhood in lower Manhattan and it's really hurting small businesses and families."
Sources tell WCBS' Kramer that that the mayor's change of heart is partially the result of heavy lobbying from Democratic lawmakers who represent the area, like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who asked the mayor to enforce laws prohibiting excessive noise from drumming which, they said, disturbs neighbors day and night.
On Thursday the mayor seemed to be even more short-tempered with the protesters. "If you want to yell and scream we'll make sure you can do it, but you're not going to do it at the expense of others," Bloomberg said.
City Hall has not announced any new actions yet against the protesters, but Speaker Silver's chief of staff met Wednesday with Bloomberg's deputy mayor, Howard Wolfson, to demand changes.
In other "Occupy" developments:
Los Angeles, Calif: About 100 nurses and supporters marched in a call for a tax on Wall Street financial transactions. The members of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association wore red T-shirts saying "An Economy for the 99 Percent."
Chicago, Ill.: Dozens of shouting Occupy Chicago protesters disrupted Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's speech to the Union League Club of Chicago.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Walker had been speaking for just a few minutes Thursday morning when about 50 protesters began shouting in a room where about 300 people had gathered for the event.
Protesters' chants included "Union busting, it's disgusting" and "We are the 99."
Protest organizer Catherine Murrell told CBS Station WBBM that Walker's idea of reform isn't right for Illinois. "His idea of budget reform is to bust unions, and basically just slash state budgets - cut jobs rather than create jobs - so he can give corporate welfare handouts," Murrell said.
Walker stood silently during the shouting, and protesters left after about 10 minutes.
Omaha, Neb.: Police arrested three people early Thursday while evicting Occupy Omaha protesters from a parking lot near downtown. The Omaha Police Department said officers made loudspeaker announcements at around 4 a.m. to ensure the nine people on the property heard and had a chance to leave before being arrested for criminal trespass on city property.
Two of the people immediately refused to leave. A third person later sat in the middle of the lot and said he was staying. All three were cooperative as they were arrested and taken a few blocks away for booking into the county jail, police said.
Tulsa, Okla.: Police arrested 13 protesters with the Occupy Tulsa movement for violating a curfew at a park in the city's financial district. Demonstrators said Thursday that the 23 arrests in the past two days, some of which involved officers using pepper spray, only made them more resolute to keep returning to the park.
New York City: On Thursday 17 Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested Thursday at Goldman Sachs' headquarters. Many of the protesters were carried off by police after refusing to move.
Several hundred activists marched from Zuccotti Park a few blocks away. Officers flanking them had handcuffs strapped to their waists.
At the Goldman Sachs building, police demanded that the protesters get off the private pavement in front of the entrance. Most did. But the rest sat down and refused to walk.