'Occupy' troubles mount

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November 8, 2011, 7:33 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston/Lowell, MA) - Four Occupy Boston protesters were arraigned Tuesday on charges of disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and stealing a police bicycle. That was all just hours after the third Occupy Boston-related drug arrest, which involved a tenter charged with selling undercover cops seven Clonidine pills days after earlier busts for alleged crack and heroin dealing.

The new troubles also came as the Boston Herald reported that Occupy Boston tenters have been mooching off the nearby St. Francis House homeless shelter, nabbing free showers and meals until the shelter director finally asked the Occupy website to stop encouraging tenters to take advantage of the Boylston Street facility.

With this drip-drip-drip of drugs and disorder dogging Occupy encampments in Boston and beyond – including dramatic, violent clashes between protesters and police in Oakland, Atlanta, and elsewhere – a new University of Massachusetts at Lowell poll found that when it comes to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Americans are now 40 percent unfavorable and 35 percent favorable, an erosion of early support.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has directed police not to enforce city ordinances that would normally make the weeks-old Dewey Square tent encampment illegal and given considerable moral support to the demonstration, said he was furious about reports of tenters – many of whom come in to Boston to spend the day at the site before going home -- taking advantage of St. Francis House.

“I’m really angry about that,’’ Menino said. “I mean, Occupy Boston, I support them on a lot of the issues, but for them to go to homeless shelter? Go home. Take a shower at home. Homeless shelters are for homeless individuals.’’

How Occupy Boston is evolving and how it’s being received by the public were the subject of a forum Tuesday at UMass Lowell, led by university chancellor Martin T. Meehan.

Two forum presenters have been active in Occupy Boston: Keith Boulanger and Jeremy Hollembaek, both military veterans attending Lowell on the GI bill. They said they remain proud to participate in the group and believe it’s having a major impact on public debate about economic policy, wealth inequality, and government policy.

“It’s reaching critical mass where now it needs to mature, adapt, and blossom, and grow into something else,’’ Boulanger said. “We have the people -- we could always use more people -- now we need to work on refining the message …  There's no two minute soundbite that is going to explain it, but we need to come together and make that message.’’

UMass Lowell pollster Mike Mokrzycki of Survey Research Services in West Newbury, Massachusetts, noted that the 40/35 unfavorable/favorable rating for the Occupy Wall Street movement compares to a 71/16 unfavorable/favorable rating for “Wall Street and large corporations” and 71/21 for “the government in Washington.”

“The Occupy movement is doing better than the government is, so that gives me hope,’’ Boulanger said.

Hollembaek said he does worry about troublemakers.

“We don’t want to cause anyone to leave the encampment because of political views, but if they're causing a threat to other people, then we do not want that to happen. We want it to be relatively peaceful, relatively calm.’’

Hollembaek said he believes a number of the problems are linked to homeless people who are addicted to drugs, people with whom he empathizes and for whom he wishes the government would do more by way of health and addiction services.

“These people and these issues are one of the major reasons I have gotten involved’’ in Occupy Boston, Hollembaek said.

Boulanger said he thinks the problems have been overblown and reflect the reality that Occupy Boston is providing shelter, food, and companionship for people who would otherwise be homeless, some of whom are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and so it’s understandable that drug-related problems will crop up.

“I think you're focusing on a small part,’’ Boulanger said, adding that by way of comparison to problems associated with Occupy Boston, “You know, how many people are arrested for drunk driving after a Bruins game? Really, are we going to stop Bruins games?’’

With videographer David Jacobs

Tags: UMass, Peter Howe, Occupy Boston, Mike Mokrzycki, Keith Boulanger, Thomas M. Menino, Jeremy Hollembaek
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