The Elm City’s Occupy movement has managed to maintain a good relationship with the cops.
Although a New Haven Police Department officer asked protesters to stop smoking marijuana early Wednesday, about 50 Occupy New Haven protesters have camped out on the New Haven Green since last Saturday and experienced few other issues. By being “absolutely perfect guests on the New Haven Green,” the protesters have avoided the violence and arrests seen in similar Occupy movements from New York to San Francisco, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said.
“We are receiving overwhelming public support from the police, the community and everybody around,” said Chris Kiley, a member of the movement’s media working group.
Ben Aubin, one of the group’s de facto leaders, said he first reached out to the NHPD three weeks before the occupation began. Consequently, the group has established a good rapport with the police, Hartman said, adding that he did not have official reports of any incidents involving protesters, though he had heard about an incident early Wednesday morning where a police officer asked several campers to stop smoking marijuana.
“I walk around this tent, and it reeks like a grow field,” the officer said, according to the New Haven Independent. “The drugs have got to stop.”
The incident involved members who Kiley said were initially “more interested in having a party than a protest.” Those who were smoking had little experience in the sort of activism the Occupy movement embodies, he said, adding the individuals “misunderstood what was acceptable.”
Smoking was addressed Wednesday night in a “Good Neighbor Policy” accepted by consensus in the group, which said it has “ZERO tolerance for illicit drugs or alcohol use” anywhere on the camp occupying the western half of the Green. The policy requires that those found consuming illicit drugs or alcohol take full responsibility for their actions as “individuals unaffiliated with the movement.”
Wednesday’s policy was an example of the group’s self-policing, said one protester on the security working group who asked to be identified as Moose. Hartman agreed, calling the group proactive.
The movement is “dynamic and very adaptive,” Moose said. For example, the occupiers are trying to decide by consensus a way to protect personal assets, Moose said, explaining the group has to balance its concerns with those of homeless individuals who make the Green a year-round habitat.
Occupy New Haven has not drawn the police ire that other similar Occupy movements have. Several hundred protesters across the country have been arrested in the past week alone, including 70 in New York and 175 in Chicago, according to the Associated Press.
Still, Hartman said there are several NHPD officers stationed around the Green to patrol for the safety of the protesters, preventing any fringe groups from causing a disturbance and ensuring that the group can exercise their right to free speech.
“As much as our relationship [with the protesters] has been good and effortless from the first moment, it wasn’t as if we had one good day and then would have been justified to stop policing,” Hartman said. “There’s still an important function to be played by the police.”
Both Yale Police Department Assistant Chief Michael Patten and Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said they were not concerned by the ongoing protests, which take place across the street from Phelps Gate. But in addition to considering the protesters, the YPD has also had to account for other groups drawn to the Occupy protesters.
Michael Knowles ’12, one of the leaders of counter-protest movement Occupy Occupy New Haven, said he met with YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry last Wednesday to discuss his group’s activity.
Knowles’ group was only active on the Green three hours on Saturday, Aubin said. Moose said he had heard that the Occupy Occupy members wanted to spray Febreze on protesters.
But Knowles said Febreze is “an air freshener, not a people freshener,” adding his group had only intended to spray the air, before being counseled against doing so by Higgins.
Similar Occupy movements have started in at least 900 cities worldwide, according to the Washington Post.