NEW YORK -- A union representing 5,000 New York City Police Department sergeants blasted Occupy Wall Street protesters on Thursday and threatened to sue them should they injure police.
"New York's police officers are working around the clock as the already overburdened economy in New York is being drained by 'occupiers' who intentionally and maliciously instigate needless and violent confrontations with the police," said Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association. Although sergeants are higher in rank than patrol officers, they do not wear the white shirts of some of the more senior officers.
Protesters have at times played confrontational cat-and-mouse games with the police, but incidents of serious violence directed against the NYPD by protesters in New York have been extremely rare.
Mullins vowed to pursue the "harshest possible civil sanctions" against violent individuals. He made particular reference to "recent events in Oakland" as a trigger for his warning, which inflamed a lawyer working on Occupy Wall Street's legal defense team.
Journalists who witnessed events in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday night did report protesters throwing bottles at the police. Law enforcement responded with a barrage of tear gas canisters, bean bags and other projectiles -- one of which hit a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran in the head, fracturing his skull.
"The fact that the SBA would cite the violence of Oakland, in which the police viciously shot an Iraq war veteran in the head with a tear gas canister, sending him to the hospital in critical condition, and then shot at those trying to give aid to the wounded, says it all," retorted Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the National Lawyers Guild.
"This is an old tried-and-true trick to make the criminal look like the victim and the victim look like the criminal," she added. "NYPD officers have carried out illegal, felonious assaults on demonstrators for weeks. Who has the power and the will to arrest and prosecute them?"
Mullins also claimed that "over twenty police officers have been injured in 'Occupy Wall Street' related incidents," but he did not provide more details. The Sergeants Benevolent Association did not return a request for more information.
Protesters have said that aggressive police tactics -- like the pepper-spraying of two women caught on tape on Sept. 24 -- have galvanized popular support for their movement. In Oakland, authorities have seemingly admitted that their forceful crackdown on protesters was a mistake.
CORRECTION: This article originally incorrectly stated the age of the Iraq war veteran. He is 24.