To think it started out so peacefully. But with frustrations running high more than a month after the Occupy movement took root across the country, encampments are falling like dominoes as authorities over the past few days have been raiding and clearing out tent cities from New York and Texas to Oakland and Berkeley.
Now, the battleground is moving from the public square to the courtroom, as protesters seek legal help to resurrect the tents and, in the process, maintain the leaderless movement that has been increasingly marred by violence and confrontation.
Behind the scenes, police chiefs and mayors from the Left Coast to the Big Apple have been quietly sharing strategies in conference calls on how to peacefully roust the occupiers from their camps while waging the legal fight that public safety trumps First Amendment rights.
And so far, they're winning that battle.
The latest, and perhaps most high-profile, legal loss for the Occupy movement came Tuesday, when a New York judge refused to let the protesters return to the Zuccotti Park plaza -- the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement -- with their tents and sleeping bags, leaving intact Mayor Michael Bloomberg's move to sweep them out early Tuesday because of threatening health and safety conditions.
It's a growing concern among city and police leaders across the country who have looked to each other
"Every mayor said it started out much more respectfully, with better conditions, and it's all degenerated," Quan said in a recent interview with the Bay Area News Group.
But Oakland protester Ben Petersen, 30, who carried a dome tent above his head during Tuesday's march to Berkeley, said the movement is undaunted.
"We're not going to give up. I think all fronts are necessary because you don't know which one will prevail," said Petersen, who plunked down his tent in front of Sproul Hall. "Go hard everywhere."
That determination leaves city officials across the country scrambling to keep one step ahead of the protesters. In two recent conference calls, police chiefs from across the country, including Oakland's interim chief Howard Jordan, discussed and debated the best time of day to raid, whether to set eviction deadlines, and how best to communicate with the leaderless group.
"The purpose wasn't to try to organize what everyone was going to do because, quite frankly, each city has its unique challenges," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum, which organized a call among nearly 40 police chiefs.
"The most important thing was clear lines of communication about what was going to be acceptable behavior and what wasn't," Wexler said. "The last thing the police wanted to do was surprise demonstrators."
That is on the minds of officials in San Francisco, who have arranged a meeting at City Hall today between Mayor Ed Lee and protesters whose tents are spilling from Justin Herman Plaza onto Market Street.
Communication has been particularly challenging in Oakland, where protesters rebuffed overtures to meet with Quan. Oakland
"In all cases, the real sense was that the police did not want to become the target of the protesters," Wexler said. "I think they have learned from experiences in the '60s that if a demonstration is peaceful and if people are simply expressing their First Amendment rights and aren't interfering with anybody, the police don't want to interfere."
But when they do, protesters have been seeking legal recourse -- so far with little success.
"Even when cities are changing their regulations, or tailoring their regulations (to address the Occupy protests), it seems like the courts are giving that a little more deference," said Ruthann Robson, a City University of New York law professor.
Little success in courts
Judges elsewhere have reached similar conclusions as the protests occupy their court dockets. A judge in Dallas on Tuesday refused to block the city from closing a campsite there, a Tucson judge did the same on Monday and a judge in Sacramento last week turned away Occupy Sacramento's arguments that an 11 p.m. curfew in that city's Cesar Chavez Park effectively shuts down peaceful free speech.
The exception so far was an order Tuesday from a Florida federal judge, who found that the permit process for Occupy protesters to set up camp in Fort Myers was so flawed that provisions violated the First Amendment.
Legal experts are hardly surprised by the outcomes, which are spurred in large part by a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the National Park Service to deny permits in Washington, D.C.'s National Mall to protesters seeking the right to erect tent cities to symbolize the plight of the homeless.
In the Bay Area, the Occupy Oakland protesters have also sought court intervention, but that lawsuit focuses primarily on allegations that Oakland police used excessive force in cracking down on the movement. U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg is reviewing that lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild.
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Josh Richman, Scott Johnson and Joshua Melvin of the Bay Area News Group and the Associated Press contributed to this report.