Across The Nation, 'Wall Street' Protests Continue

The "Occupy Wall Street" protest movement that was born in New York's financial district is now in its fourth week and has spread to scores of other cities. The affiliated protests continue in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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The Occupy Wall Street protest movement that was born in New York about a month ago, has spread to other cities. Most of the protests have been peaceful. But in Boston, police arrested over a hundred people overnight, mostly for trespassing.

What the demonstrators want often depends on the city and the day. And to check in on the movement, we have three reports now, starting with NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Protesters have been rallying, as they say, in defense of basic American principles of equality and justice. What they were arrested for, however, was more about that other American tradition of defending your newly planted flowerbeds from being trampled by neighbors.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Get out of the park, or you're going to be locked up for trespassing and...

SMITH: Boston police insisted all night they respect protesters' right to gather. They just didn't want them doing it around the $150,000 worth of new shrubs and flowers on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. When protesters refused to move out, police moved in.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Put the other hand behind your back.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I can't, I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Yes, you can.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're hurting me.

SMITH: Officers in riot gear cuffed and removed protesters with what Nadeem Mazen calls shocking brutality.

NADEEM MAZEN: I did not expect to see people thrown to the ground. I did not expect to see older people thrown to the ground and punched in the face.

SMITH: Protesters left behind, like Phil Anderson(ph), immediately began collecting bail money for those he says were unfairly arrested.

PHIL ANDERSON: I mean, I find it odd that they're protecting grass instead of people's free speech-rights.

SMITH: Boston Mayor Tom Menino is denying any police brutality. He says he sympathizes with many of the protesters' goals but as mayor, he needed to maintain order.

TOM MENINO: Once you have civil disobedience, and you do what you think - you are going to run the city. I kept out - stepped in and make a clear line of authority.

KARI PETERSON-SMITH: Occupy Boston has posed no threat to anybody.

SMITH: Twenty-nine year old Kari Peterson-Smith(ph) was one arrested last night. Waiting outside court today for arraignment, he called the arrests shameful.

PETERSON-SMITH: Who's wrong here? People occupying a public space to talk about the problems in our society and how things can be better? Or is it the banks that we're camped out next to, that are taking people's homes, ruining the world economy? They're at fault. They're at fault. And yet it's people from Occupy Boston who are in court today, not people from banks.

SMITH: Raised by a grade-school teacher and social worker, Peterson-Smith says he taught school for five years before the recession left him unable to find a job.

PETERSON-SMITH: And that's what this is about. We're not being allowed to realize our dreams, which are really dreams for making a better world in the ways that we've been told we should.

SMITH: Peterson-Smith says he thinks the arrests will provoke more people to join the protest in Boston. That may be right now, under the unusually warm blue skies, but even protesters say changing New England weather may soon do more to whittle their numbers than any arrests.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: I'm David Schaper in Chicago, where a day after a massive protest shut down rush-hour traffic downtown, a smaller but growing and vocal group of Occupy Chicago demonstrators is camped outside of the Chicago Board of Trade, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Bank of America's Chicago headquarters.

Among the several dozen people here that are chanting, banging drums and carrying anti-corporate signs are college students, low-wage workers and the unemployed.

STEPHANIE HARPER: I'm Stephanie Harper(ph). I live here in Chicago. I'm 50 years old, and I don't have a job right now.

SCHAPER: Harper says she was laid off six months ago from her job as a certified nurse's assistant, where she worked with the elderly and the disabled.

HARPER: Now, I'm just looking for work, but I can't find any work. I filled out - I'm all over the Internet all day long every day, trying to find a job. But I mean, it's hard when there's no money out here.

SCHAPER: Where is the money?

HARPER: I guess it's in the corporations and the big bosses who got all the money, you know - the Federal Reserve Bank, Wall Street, the billionaires. They got all the money.

SCHAPER: Carrying a sign that says People Over Profits, Stephanie Harper says this is the fifth time she's joined the Chicago protests. She says she's doing it not only for herself, but for her young grandchildren. And while the out-of-work Harper is someone you might expect to see protesting and denouncing corporate greed, Sheila Wilkidge(ph) is not.

SHEILA WILKIDGE: I was passing by and I read all the signs, and I totally agree with every single one of them.

SCHAPER: So the 67-year-old retiree says she picked up a sign.

WILKIDGE: I used to work for a brokerage firm, so I know the ins and the outs. And I know that when all the banks got the power to be just like a brokerage house, that's when we got into trouble - and the banks got into trouble, too. So it's the people at the top that are causing the problems.

SCHAPER: Wilkidge says if she sees some of her former colleagues walking out of the banks and brokerage houses in Chicago's Financial District while she's protesting, it might be awkward. But she says she won't be surprised if some of them agree with her.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: I'm Karen Grigsby Bates in Los Angeles. I'm standing on the steps of City Hall, looking at the park in front of City Hall, which is filled with tents from people who've come to Occupy L.A. Often, there are large numbers of homeless folks who are camped out in the park before City Hall. This morning, there's a mixture of people who are homeless, who are occupiers, and who are people who are on their way to work - like Andres Bustamante.

ANDRES BUSTAMANTE: I think that it wakes up America. I think that it wakes up not only the working-class people but it also wakes up, especially, middle-class Americans.

BATES: Bustamante sounds a little breathy because he's a lawyer headed uphill to court. So I asked him: What does a guy in a suit with a briefcase have in common with these protesters?

BUSTAMANTE: What do I have in common with these folks? I grew up working as a migrant farm worker in the fields and I can relate to working-class people.

BATES: I interrupted Jeremy Brooks(ph), a protester doing voluntary trash pickup, to ask what his overriding reason was for being here.

JEREMY BROOKS: Jobs.

BATES: Brooks is from Pennsylvania, and he says like many others here, he's unemployed.

BROOKS: I lost my job four months ago.

BATES: What did you do?

BROOKS: I was a cook.

BATES: Brooks says he'll stay for as long as it takes and, unlike the movement's interaction with law enforcement in some other cities, he has high praise for the Los Angeles Police Department.

BROOKS: Awesome. They have been absolutely wonderful to us.

BATES: That sentiment is echoed by Daniel Sandate, who has come here from Oklahoma City. He's sharing a tent with three other protesters. They all agree the LAPD, often criticized in the past for how it has handled protests, has done everything right.

DANIEL SANDATE: They're the shiny example of how a protest should be done. They're the ones that are out here actually protecting our rights, actually making sure that other agencies aren't coming around or harassing us.

BATES: Sandate says the LAPD's treatment of the park's occupiers stands in stark contrast to what he's hearing from other cities.

SANDATE: There's politics involved in every aspect of this thing. And the politics involved in that are that they're being seen in comparison with everybody else, and they're looking good.

BATES: That patience might need to last, as many of Occupy LA's participants say they're here for the duration - however long that is. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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