What are the lessons from the conflicts of the latest Occupy Oakland action?
It's a philosophy but also, in political terms, a tactic.
Many of the people who make up Occupy Oakland get their start as activists organizing against police brutality in a city that has longstanding problems with violent and undisciplined officers.
Police Chief Howard Jordan said in a press release that "It became clear that the objective of this crowd was not to peacefully assemble and march, but to seek opportunity to further criminal acts, confront police, and repeatedly attempt to illegally occupy buildings."
It was certainly clear that the intent of the crowd was to illegally occupy a building. And any honest assessment of Occupy Oakland would have to acknowledge that some members are not wedded to King-style nonviolent civil disobedience. (Neither, by the way, were a lot of the protest movements of the 1960s.) Many protesters wore masks and bandanas to disguise their identities and protect them from tear gas and pepper spray, and the march was led by protesters with makeshift shields, which suggests that they expected to be attacked. You could certainly argue that what those people were doing wasn't confrontation; it was self-defense.
Frankly, it made sense to be prepared: In other Occupy Oakland actions, police have attacked with batons, tear gas, pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, and smoke bombs. And for quite a few Oakland residents, the police have always been seen as an outside force that can't be trusted.
In fact, violence did break out. Many, including myself, have eyes still stinging from tear gas. I saw several wounds caused by rubber bullets shot at protesters. I spoke individually to at least a dozen people — one of them a pregnant woman — who were struck with police batons.
And protesters did not remain peaceful while this violence was being used against them.
Some picked up tear gas canisters and threw them back towards police; that much I saw. I also saw protesters throw empty plastic bottles at police.
According to the police, they also threw metal pipes, rocks and bricks. According to the protesters, they threw mainly empty plastic bottles and fruit at police. But as protesters often say of the police, "They're the ones who showed up with the guns." If the cops didn't want violence, why unleash such an arsenal of weapons?
People got hurt, protesters and police alike. Several bystanders who had nothing to do with the situation were swept up in the mass arrest.
The city of Oakland, already in dire financial straits, likely spent hundreds of thousands of dollars reacting to the protests. Police claim that they were unable to sufficiently respond to violent crimes over the weekend, including five murders, because they were overwhelmed with Occupy troublemakers.
Of course, city officials were the ones who decided to arrest 400 people -- with all the expense that involves.
There are, at this point, no reports of serious injuries to any police officers. However, at least a dozen protesters had welts on their faces or bodies from being beaten by clubs or shot with rubber bullets. One woman was shot in both arms with rubber bullet; one man was shot in the face with rubber bullets while holding a video camera to document the events. Several protesters were shoved to the ground and received wounds on their faces while being arrested. Police raised their rubber-bullet rifles to the faces of protesters throughout the day, threatening attacks. A rubber bullet to the face can cause brain damage and blindness.
DID IT HAVE TO HAPPEN?
How could this have been prevented?