WASHINGTON — A “delicate balance” between public order and the right to demonstrate has enabled Washington to accept the occupation of two downtown squares, even as other US cities crack down on protest camps, Mayor Vincent Gray said Wednesday.
Asked why the US capital has not come down on the Occupy movement, as New York did on Tuesday, Gray said his staff has been “closely” in contact with organizers of both local occupations since they took root last month.
“We’ve made it clear the terms of the conditions that are important to us, and that is not interfering with the normal patterns and routines of life of people or putting people in any kind of dangerous situation,” he said.
“We recognize there are certain First Amendment rights and we try to be cognizant to that, sensitive to that,” the mayor, a Democrat, added at a regular biweekly press conference.
“It’s a great delicate balance we have here, and we’ve worked very hard with those in the Occupy movement to be able to maintain that balance.”
Protests against social inequality and corporate influence on US politics have seen two separate tent cities spring up in McPherson Square in the K Street lobbying district and in Freedom Plaza next to City Hall.
Both public squares — a few blocks from the White House — belong to the National Park Service and are policed by its own Park Police force. Local police get involved whenever the occupiers step out into traffic to march.
The latest march, on Tuesday night in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street in New York, saw up to 300 people trek peacefully to the gates of the White House and call upon President Barack Obama to “join us.”
“We will continue to monitor” the occupations, said assistant chief Patrick Burke of the Metropolitan Police Department.
“It does take some police presence to do so, but we’ve had good relationships with a lot of people… to make sure that everyone is safe but respecting the law at the same time.”
Police in New York swooped down on Occupy Wall Street in lower Manhattan in the early hours of Tuesday, arresting around 200 people, eliminating its encampment and casting the future of the Occupy movement into question.