NEW YORK — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, the New York Stock Exchange and the subways to raise their voices against what they say is corporate excess.
But since police in riot helmets, batons and riot shields ousted them from their two-month encampments, Occupy Wall Street protesters singled out officers as another enemy, saying their crowd control tactics were an excessive, chilling use of force against free speech.
"The police played their role. I wouldn't call it respectful," said Danny Shaw, 33, on Thursday in a day of protests across the country to mark the two-month anniversary of the movement against what demonstrators say is economic inequality.
Tear gas in Oakland, Calif., pepper spray that hit an 84-year-old Seattle woman in the face and hundreds of arrests of demonstrators and journalists at Occupy protests across the U.S. this week shone the spotlight on the varying crowd control tactics of police, most who used helmets and riot gear as they broke up encampments in New York and other cities.
"Police Brutality," protesters' signs blared. New York officials have called for investigations of the police raid of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan early Tuesday.
Experts on policing say departments have used necessary tactics to control unpredictable, sometimes violent protesters, and that the police haven't reached the stages yet of full riot protection.
"I don't think they're rioting at Occupy Wall Street, not yet, but they are getting out of control," said Maki Haberfeld, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "If they were rioting, you would see much more riot gear" like sonic devices and high-powered weapons, she said.
But the images that have played across the country have been disconcerting to some: 84-year-old Dorli Rainey's face dripping with pepper spray and the liquid used to treat it, and police and protesters pushing each other in New York Thursday over metal barricades in downtown Manhattan.
"When somebody puts their hands on somebody itself, it never looks right," Haberfeld said. "But this is what they're allowed to do. ... It is truly not excessive and I am surprised by how not excessive it is."
The demonstrations Thursday — in such cities as Los Angeles, Boston, Las Vegas, Washington and Portland, Ore. — were for the most part peaceful. But at least 300 people were arrested in New York and dozens were arrested elsewhere, including five on charges they assaulted police officers by throwing liquid into several officers' faces and tossing glass at another.
"We will assure that everyone has the right to exercise their First Amendment rights," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday after visiting one hospitalized officer who needed 20 stitches on his hand. But "if anyone's actions cross the line and threaten the health and safety of others including our first responders, we will respond accordingly."
Chanting "All day, all week, shut down Wall Street," more than 1,000 protesters gathered near the New York Stock Exchange and sat down in several intersections. A dozen metal sleeves intended to lock protesters to fixtures on the street were confiscated, police said. Several thousand jammed Manhattan's Foley Square Thursday evening and marched to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Several weeks ago, an attempt to march across the bridge drew the first significant international attention to the Occupy movement as more than 700 people were arrested.
In Seattle on Thursday, hundreds of Occupy Seattle and labor demonstrators shut down the University Bridge. Traffic was snarled as protesters from two different rallies held marches as part of a national day of action demanding jobs.
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