Show of Force at 'Occupy Oakland' Unnerves Protesters

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Veering around police barricades, anti-Wall Street protesters held a late-night march through Oakland streets, a day after one of their number — an Iraq War veteran — was left in critical condition with a fractured skull following a clash with police.

The show of force in Oakland along with SWAT arrests in Atlanta have sent chills among some anti-Wall Street demonstrators.

But another showdown between police and protesters in Oakland appeared to be averted late Wednesday night as several hundred filed out of a plaza declared off-limits for overnight use and marched through nearby streets.

An AP photographer on the scene said police erected barricades to prevent the marchers from reaching a freeway, sending the group down side streets en masse.

Small contingents of officers could be seen following behind but there were no signs of any confrontations or arrests. The march tapered off after about an hour, with most of the protesters apparently dispersing.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Occupy Wall Street.]

On Tuesday, an Iraq War veteran marching with Oakland demonstrators suffered a cracked skull in the chaos between officers and protesters, further raising concern among some in the movement.

Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Marine veteran, was in critical condition Wednesday after he had been struck, said a spokesman for Highland Hospital in Oakland.

It was not clear exactly what type of object hit the veteran or who might have thrown it, though the group Iraq Veterans Against the War said it was lodged by officers.

Police Chief Howard Jordan said at a news conference that the events leading up to Olsen's injury would be investigated as vigorously as a fatal police shooting.

"It's unfortunate it happened. I wish that it didn't happen. Our goal, obviously, isn't to cause injury to anyone," the chief said.

While demonstrators in other cities have built a working relationship with police and city leaders, they wondered on Wednesday how long the good spirit would last and whether they could be next.

Will they have to face riot gear-clad officers and tear gas that their counterparts in Oakland, Calif., faced Tuesday? Or will they be handcuffed and hauled away in the middle of the night like protesters in Atlanta?

"Yes, we're afraid. Is this the night they're going to sneak in?" said activist William Buster of Occupy Wall Street, where the movement began last month to protest what they see as corporate greed.

"Is this the night they might use unreasonable force?" he asked.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

The message from officials in cities where other encampments have sprung up was simple: We'll keep working with you. Just respect your neighbors and keep the camps clean and safe.

Business owners and residents have complained in recent weeks about assaults, drunken fights and sanitation problems. Officials are trying to balance their rights and uphold the law while honoring protesters' free speech rights.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Wednesday that the Occupy LA encampment outside City Hall "cannot continue indefinitely."

Villaraigosa told the Los Angeles Times that he respects the protesters right to peacefully assemble and express their views, but they must respect city laws and regulations.

San Francisco police have already cleared two encampments. Most recently, police estimated at least five protesters were arrested and several others injured in a clash Tuesday evening.

Some cities, such as Providence, R.I., are moving ahead with plans to evict activists. But from Tampa, Fla., to Boston, police and city leaders say they will continue to try to work with protesters to address problems in the camps.

In Oakland, officials initially supported the protests, with Mayor Jean Quan saying that sometimes "democracy is messy."

But tensions reached a boiling point after a sexual assault, a severe beating and a fire were reported and paramedics were denied access to the camp, according to city officials. They also cited concerns about rats, fire hazards and public urination.