GUY RAZ, HOST:
Today, in Portland, Oregon, Mayor Sam Adams ordered Occupy Wall Street protesters in his city to clear out. Their deadline: 12:01 a.m., Sunday. He cited a rise in crime around the encampments that includes multiple assaults and two drug overdoses in two days. He also warned that police will be prepared to arrest anyone who does not leave. This move comes after Adams sent an open letter earlier this week to members of Occupy Portland, writing that their space behind city hall was not sustainable. For more now, I'm joined by Portland Mayor Sam Adams. Welcome to the program.
MAYOR SAM ADAMS: Thank you.
RAZ: Why draw a line in the sand now?
ADAMS: Well, from the very beginning, I've said that I'm taking a balanced approach to our encampment for Occupy Wall Street, that our job was to both protect free speech but that that was balanced against keeping the city moving and keeping the city safe. And in the last week, things have just gotten so unbalanced that it is time to end the encampments. And I want to say that the folks that have stepped up within the Occupy Portland movement have been, you know, very responsive to our concerns along the way. They've made changes when we've asked for them. But events have conspired that it is just not safe.
We've had two near deaths this week, and we had someone who ignited a Molotov cocktail at a local building. And that in addition to the rising crime rate, it's out of balance, and I've got to take action to restore balance.
RAZ: You have called the situation unsustainable in the encampment. Describe the conditions there right now.
ADAMS: Well, the unsustainable aspects of the camp that I'm most worried about are the drug overdoses. The fact that Occupy Portland itself has said last weekend that people are abusing their good will by using the camp - not my words - using the camp as camouflage for criminal activities. And, you know, at open-air camp like this is no place for folks that are facing, you know, illness, mental illness or drug addiction to be. And the concentration of all that is, you know, just beyond the ability of folks, with the best of intentions who put the camp together and are trying to maintain it, it's just beyond their own ability to handle.
RAZ: Well, in response to your letter, leaders or members of - protesters from Occupy Portland, they have essentially said, look, this is just bringing together various types of economic refugees. It shows how unsustainable the U.S. economy really is. I wonder - I understand you are sympathetic to their cause...
RAZ: ...but I wonder if you have mixed feelings about forcing them out.
ADAMS: I do have - of course, I have mixed feelings. You know, I come from a hardscrabble background, and what the Occupy movement is calling for in terms of better, smarter financial global and national regulatory policies, you know, bringing people to justice that drove this global economy into the ground and we're still suffering from, you know, more equal access to opportunities. I got into government in part, you know, to work on those issues.
So that's in my role as a politician. In my role as a mayor, I have to treat everybody the same. And, you know, I have to both guard free speech and balance that against keeping the city moving and keeping the city safe. So, you know, I look forward for the movement evolving that, you know, this should be about the focus on the reason for which they got together in the first place, and that's economic justice, not about Porta-Pottys or tarps and the things that too much time in the Occupy movement is being spent on right now.
RAZ: But what if it is about those things, about being visible, about being outside and with those tarps and under tents and with the Porta-Pottys? I mean, what if that is a big part of why it's getting so much attention?
ADAMS: Well, it is, and I think that there's a lot of the fact that, you know, you've got the treasury secretary, you know, recently saying that the Obama administration hasn't, you know, finished its work on bringing to justice folks, you know, that drove the global economy into the ground. I think that is a success of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that visibility is important. But every movement to continue their success, the full potential of their success has to evolve.
And at some point, you know, the occupation becomes so burdensome to the movement - at least here in Portland - or just dangerous that it has to evolve.
RAZ: Mayor Sam Adams, thank you so much.
ADAMS: Thank you.
RAZ: That's Portland, Oregon, Mayor Sam Adams. He's asking Occupy Wall Street protesters in his city to clear out of their encampment by this Sunday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.