Mayor: Conditions deteriorating at Occupy Philly

CENTER CITY - November 14, 2011

The mayor said posting more uniformed officers in the Dilworth Plaza area has become necessary because of growing health and safety concerns and a fractured leadership at the camp that has left the city still pressing the protesters to move to make way for a $50 million construction project.

"We are reevaluating our entire engagement and relationship with Occupy Philadelphia," Nutter told reporters at a news conference.

The mayor stopped short of saying the protesters, who occupy dozens of tents outside City Hall, would be evicted or forced to relocate. The latest Occupy response to the city was a vote Friday among protesters to remain at the site rather than move to a plaza across the street as the city has asked.

"I'm not getting into deadlines," Nutter said. "When we need to act, we will act."

The mayor reemphasized that by refusing to accept the city's offer to relocate to a public plaza across the street, the protesters were standing in the way of a long-planned renovation project, expected to provide more than 1,000 jobs.

Nutter said "serious health and safety issues" occur almost daily at the encampment, including thefts and assaults - the latest an alleged sexual assault reported Saturday. Emergency responders made 15 runs last week involving assaults, a tent fire, hypothermia, and other safety concerns involving the camp, Nutter said.

The mayor also cited the risk of fire to the camp and the historic City Hall building given the quantity of combustible material on the plaza, along with camping stoves, candles, lanterns, propane tanks, and people smoking. In addition, the mayor said that despite the presence of portable toilets, people continue to defecate and urinate outdoors.

"We do not seek confrontation. We prefer cooperation," he said. "But these issues of public health and safety must be addressed and addressed immediately."

The mayor stressed that two public safety maintenance projects - the removal of tower scaffolding and repairs to windows overlooking the encampment - must proceed.

Michael Miller, 35, who said he has been at the Occupy Philadelphia encampment since the start a month ago, said the demonstrators need to cooperate more with the city, including moving to another site to allow the renovation project and other work.

"I think the mayor has been lenient with us and nice ... compared to all of the other cities," he said. "This has been a model city for protesting out of all of them up until this point. Now you're starting to see negative things come to the surface. That is going to derail this movement and start making us look bad."

Posted inside the tent where he was sitting was an Occupy-produced flyer and photograph warning of an alleged sexual offender who protesters say has been repeatedly escorted from the camp, although is not the person suspected in the Saturday assault.

Nicole Brown, 22, of Wilkes-Barre was more skeptical of reports of problems at the site.

"This is Philadelphia. We're people of Philly living together at City Hall," she said. "This stuff happens outside of here as well as in here. It's not like we're causing it."

Brown said she supported the vote to stay at the site, despite jobs that would come with the renovation project.

"It would supply a lot of jobs but they're temporary jobs," she said. "I get that it would be good for the people who need to work, but that's not their motive. It's an argument to try to shut us down."

On Sunday night, some Occupy Wall Street protesters stopped by to meet their Philadelphia counterparts.

The group arrived at Dilworth Plaza at about 9:45 p.m. .they ate dinner and spoke about their journey so far.

As it stands, the Wall Street protesters are set to stay in Philadelphia until Tuesday.

The final destination for these marching occupiers is Washington, D.C. and members of this movement say they've been gaining momentum along the way.

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