What are the lessons from the conflicts of the latest Occupy Oakland action?
Police say that "while peaceful forms of expression and free speech rights will be facilitated, acts of violence, trespassing, property destruction and overnight lodging will not be tolerated." But 40 people were arrested during an ongoing Occupy Oakland vigil in the first weeks of January for having "illegal property" at OGP in what many saw as clearly a peaceful expression of First Amendment rights.
On KGO radio Jan. 29, Chief Jordan said that he has allowed Occupy Oakland to protest without a permit and would continue to do so, but those early January raids were ostensibly due to permit violations — violations of the terms of a permit that Occupy Oakland did in fact have.
There's no question: The police response to Occupy Oakland over the past few months has caused some people in the movement to get more radical.
Many Occupy Oakland-affiliated medics condemned those who threw objects at police, saying that they provoked a backlash that caused more injuries. Many Oakland residents who might be in line with the socio-economic critique presented by the Occupy movement feel endangered and confused by marches that result in the massive use of police weapons in broad daylight. A lot of people would rather protest in a lot of ways that less resemble urban warfare.
On the other hand, there are also ways that Oakland officials could have prevented the consequences of weapons deployed and 400 arrested Jan. 28. They could, for example, have allowed protesters to occupy the vacant building.
When protesters seized a building Jan. 20 in San Francisco, police first attempted to prevent them. They lined up in front of the targeted building. They deployed pepper spray and struck several protesters with batons. When they were unsuccessful, and protesters entered the building from the back, they opted to block the surrounding streets and wait until the time seemed right to enter the situation and make arrests. Police spokesperson Carlos Manfredi told me that the cops were not going to rush into the situation and were trying to prevent injury and violence.
The Kaiser Convention Center has been vacant for years. The city of Oakland recently made plans to sell it to its Redevelopment Agency, but that plan fell into legal limbo when Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB26, a bill that dissolved all California redevelopment agencies.
At this point, nobody at Oakland City Hall has any plans whatsoever for the big, empty structure.
Why not allow Occupy to use the convention center? It's not downtown, where Mayor Quan says businesses have been adversely affected by Occupy Oakland's presence. It would give the movement a chance to stop focusing on trying to occupy spaces and start focusing on benefiting the community with food, shelter, and community programs that they provided when they had a camp. It would give the building tenants who could be held responsible for maintaining it. It might even help get Occupy Oakland and the Oakland Police Department out of the cycle of violence that they have been spiraling into for months.
Each time arrests occur, each time violence occurs, both sides blame the other. Both sides are correct that they were provoked. Both sides are correct that something that they think is worth defending was violated — for the cops, it's the law. For the protesters, it's the right of the people to assemble.
In fact, many Oakland residents have experienced violence at the hands of the Oakland Police Department for years before Occupy began. There was already a mass movement formed around the murder of Oscar Grant, and thousands of people fed up with police murders of unarmed, often black, suspects.