Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
Thursday was a tough one for the Occupy Wall Street movement, with two unrelated fatal shootings at two different encampments raising concerns about the safety of the ongoing demonstrations.
Police are currently investigating both incidents—a shooting just outside Occupy Oakland and an apparent suicide in Occupy Burlington in Vermont— but the incidents have already sparked the latest round of debates between the protesters who have shown no signs of giving up their lengthy protests and local officials who are hoping to bring an end to the encampments they say are dangerous.
In Oakland—where the city's relationship with Occupy protesters has been strained for some time— city officials and protesters reacted "immediately" to the shooting, the Associated Press reports. The protesters claim that the attack is unrelated to their encampment, but Oakland Mayor Jean Quan contends that the incident "underscores the reason why the encampment must end."
For their part, police have not confirmed whether the fatal shooting involved participants in the protests or not. Sgt. Christopher Bolton of the Oakland Police Department told the Los Angeles Times that the incident seems, at this point, to be related to the camp only "in proximity." The Washington Post says the victim was shot outside of a restaurant where protesters frequently eat.
Shake Anderson, a camp organizer who often serves as spokesman for the group, told the AP he didn't recognize the man who was shot, and therefore didn't believe he could be a protester. Councilman Larry Reid countered that the victim's—or the shooter's—association with the protest didn't matter: The large crowds and attention paid to the encampment attracts weapons and fights, he argued. Critics of the protest have previously argued that the encampment puts an undue strain on the city's already understaffed police force.
Meanwhile, in Burlington, a 35-year-old man died after being shot in a tent at the local Occupy encampment. The shooting happened a little after 2 p.m. and was apparently self-inflicted. The man, who was reportedly a military veteran, was taken to a city hospital in grave condition and later died from his wounds, Reuters reports.
The Burlington Free Press described the scene just after the shooting:
A motionless man was removed from a green tent where blood was evident. About a half dozen police cars were at the scene at about 2:20 p.m. … Police have the encampment taped off. Some people are inside the tape, some are at the edges of the park are hugging and crying.
Police recovered the weapon at the scene, according to Reuters.
Camping is currently banned from the site in downtown Burlington while police investigate. According to the Free Press, the ban resulted in a "tense" confrontation between protesters and police Thursday night. The Burlington encampment has, however, developed a "good relationship" with police and city officials since it began Oct. 28, according to the local paper.