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Peaceful occupation; Buffalo officials deserve thanks for helping protest remain quiet

That the Occupy Wall Street movement has included Buffalo in its coast-to-coast camps is no surprise. What may be surprising is how the City of Buffalo has not resorted to the evictions, arrests and pepper spray that have ended so many other encampments.

Mayor Byron W. Brown, the Common Council and members of Occupy Buffalo deserve credit for striking an agreement that allows the city's business and the protest against economic inequality to coexist in relative harmony.

Protesters set up camp outside City Hall in Niagara Square back in October, with almost immediate city support, including the waiving of a $500 permit fee. The mayor notably talked about the group's constitutionally protected freedom of speech.

Contrast the scenario here with that of other camps that have been forcibly cleared out. Notable clashes with police have occurred in New York City, Boston, Denver and Oakland. Closer to home, the Albany encampment has been the scene of three assaults and dozens of arrests, and police used pepper spray last week as they cleared protesters from a park. Some of the encounters have drawn national attention, such as in Seattle, where an 84-year-old woman, a priest and a pregnant teenager were doused with pepper spray last month. The elderly woman, Dorli Rainey, became the face of the Seattle protest after a photo showed her dripping face after she was pepper sprayed.

In Oakland a full-blown investigation is under way into police conduct following traumatic brain injuries suffered by an Occupy protester after a clash with law enforcement.

These are just a few of the clashes that have taken place since the movement sprang up in New York City in September. One running total on the Internet puts the total number of arrests at more than 5,600.

While peaceful compared with other cities, the Buffalo encampment hasn't been without problems.

The Occupy group's support of free speech apparently doesn't extend to criticism of its members. A story in The News about one member's wildly exaggerated claims of military service led to a tense scene in Niagara Square as members of the group took turns screaming at a News reporter. Later, members organized a protest march to The News, which ironically had been and continues to support their right to free speech. In another incident, last week a splinter group set up a satellite camp in Lafayette Square. There was one arrest there as city officials cleared out the group's tents. Also last week, a Buffalo man was arrested after an occupy protester was threatened with a knife.

But for the most part, thanks to the cooperation of city officials who support the rights of the people to peacably assemble, Buffalo has been free of the problems seen in other parts of the country.

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