Controversial arrests of OccupyOakland participants raise civil liberties concerns
Police cars had pulled up on 14th street, and a line of police exited. In unison, they started advancing, brandishing batons. Many who were at the scene grabbed their possessions and fled. Most just backed away as the cops advanced. A handful stood in front of the teepee, and were arrested on the spot.
Twelve were arrested, including La Rose. Also arrested was Adam Katz, a photographer from the media committee who was documenting events. Katz said that police told him to back up, and when he complied and backed up "probably 50-60 feet," he was still arrested.
"I took one picture and I was told to back up," he said. "I repeatedly asked 'Back up to where?' as an army of police pushed me out of the plaza. They said, 'Back up behind the line.' I kept saying, 'What line? I don't see a line.'"
Then there's Chris, another occupier arrested Jan. 4. According to Katz and other witnesses, Chris had already left the plaza and gone across the street when he was arrested for somehow delaying the police who were trying to clear the plaza.
On Jan. 7, OccupyOakland held an "anti-repression march," claiming that recent arrests are an overt attempt to repress the movement. The National Lawyers Guild issued a statement demanding an end to the "ongoing violence, harassment, and unconstitutional arrests of Occupy Oakland protesters."
"There is evidence that would go to show that they were targeting people based on First Amendment activity, and not for illegal activity," said attorney Mike Flynn, president of the NLG-SF. "Police charged into the plaza and grabbed whoever they could, and also targeted selective people who withdrew and didn't even linger there."
But OPD spokesperson Johnna Watson told us these arrests were perfectly legal. "The law allows us to use our discretion," she said.
A person's history with the movement is factored into this discretion. Many of those Perry deems "regulars" are, according to the police, "repeat offenders." As Watson said, "There may be knowledge of a past history, like a repeat offender. If an officer has knowledge that a crime is occurring, has occurred, or is about to occur, we have the right to issue a citation or arrest. If we have someone constantly continuing to break the law, we may not issue a citation."
In other words, involvement with this political movement can get people arrested who might otherwise not be.
"That police have escalated their attacks on people is pretty disturbing. It looks like they really think they can drive this movement out of Oakland with violence and repression," said Dan Siegel, a former legal advisor to Mayor Jean Quan who resigned over her handling of OccupyOakland.
Siegel is now representing Marcel Johnson, aka Khali, one of the several protesters arrested Dec. 30, who faces life in prison. A homeless man who became an OccupyOakland regular, Khali was arrested when he tried to hold on to his blanket, which police wanted to throw away, saying that it was unpermitted property.
While in jail, he was charged with felony assault on a police officer, his third strike. A protester called Black Angel who knows Khali said he was transformed by the movement. "He came here and found a family," he said. "He was like, I'm going to protect this. It gave me some sense of myself."
But now, Siegel said, "He faces life in prison because of his status of being poor, homeless, and with mental health issues."
Juries may decide whether OccupyOakland defendants are guilty, but Siegel said the arrests aren't just: "You still have to ask yourself, why are the police doing this when we have 100 unsolved murders in Oakland?"