Powerful, mostly peaceful Oakland action ends badly


After a long day of mostly peaceful demonstrations by thousands of protesters who joined OccupyOakland's General Strike and Day of Action yesterday, it's still unclear why the Oakland Police – which had stood down the entire day, leaving the movement to self-police – massed in riot gear around midnight and used tear gas and other projectiles to clear the streets and make a reported 80 arrests.

Spokespersons for the Oakland Police Department and Mayor Jean Quan haven't returned Guardian phone calls, and reports in the Oakland Tribune and other media outlets don't indicate exactly what prompted police to change tactics and aggressively confront the demonstration. Protesters had taken over a vacant building and erected barricades in the streets shortly before riot police showed up, and it appears from a Tribune video that a dumpster was set on fire after the police showed up.

Before the standoff between city officials and demonstrators in Oakland again took a violent turn, the day was notable for its lack of police presence around the occupied Oscar Grant Plaza and nearby 14th and Broadway epicenter. And despite a small number of masked agitators who broke bank windows and sprayed graffiti – much to the chagrin of most protesters who actively opposed such tactics – the movement was remarkably nonviolent and self-policing, particularly given a crowd of what seemed to be around 10,000 people at its peak. Protesters even handled traffic control, using a megaphone to help motorists through intersections congested with passing demonstrators.

“This is an extraordinarily peaceful collection of diverse people,” Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) told the Guardian just after 5 pm as a massive march left the encampment to shut down the Port of Oakland. “I feel like they're doing what no elected person can do: they're putting economic equity issues in front of the American people.”

“This is beautiful and powerful. This I love,” agreed Oakland City Council member Libby Schaaf, beaming as the peaceful march took off, although she told us that she was disappointed to see Oakland businesses vandalized, including her beloved Noah's Bagels. “Fight greed, not bagels.”

Most of the crowd condemned the violence, and many openly worried that it would undercut the positive demonstration of people power and the airing of frustration with economic injustices in the country. But even Hancock said a few bad apples shouldn't spoil people's understanding of what an important day it was.

“I'm very grateful to them for calling attention to economic inequality. It is in the interests of cities that this issue take center stage,” Hancock told us. “There are so many things that have been talked about that are now on the stage and it's a very important conversation to have.”

But many in the movement were disappointed nonetheless, despite the myriad successes in shutting down business nonviolently. Around 3 pm, a crowd of thousands marched past a Chase Bank at 20th and Berkeley streets where the front window had been shattered, as was the case with at least six other businesses. Taped to the windows were signs reading “We are better than this” and “This is not the 99%. Sorry, the 99%”.

As the huge crowd repeatedly chanted “peaceful protest,” Ryan, a 31-year-old Oakland resident, expressed his frustration over vandalism he blamed on out-of-town instigators. “People from Oakland would not damage their city like that,” he told me. “Last week was beautiful, we were dancing and singing in the streets,” he said, referring to the largely nonviolent response to police violence, “but this is bullshit.”

Large protests almost always have members who want to escalate the conflict and who see breaking windows as a legitimate tactic, and yesterday there were sometimes tense conflicts between protesters who disagreed on the issue. Another complex issue is how to now view Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, whose support for last week's violent police crackdown prompted calls for her recall or resignation, although her subsequent apology, the re-encampment of Frank Ogawa Plaza, and yesterday's police stand down caused some to rethink whether to actively oppose her.

“My goal for today is to spur the international movement forward and to show what we're capable of,” said 23-year-old Iris Brilliant, who got more actively involved in OccupyOakland after the crackdown and said she was happy to see the police kept at bay. “It's important to push this forward.”

But Tania Kappner, a 41-year-old teacher from Oakland, still hadn't forgiven Quan or the police for the violent excesses in last week's raid. She was camped out in Oscar Grant Plaza in a tent with the sign “Mayor Quan Must Go!”

“It's good she's not sending them in on us today, but she never should have done it in the first place,” Kappner told us. “We're calling for her to go and the police who did it to be jailed.”

With the decision to again unleash the riot police and tear gas and arrest big numbers of people – which was the very thing that prompted such huge numbers of people to turn out yesterday, giving OccupyOakland the numbers and power to easily shut down the port and dozens of businesses – Oakland and the larger Occupy movement might again find itself back at square one.

The National Lawyer's Guild, which had observers on hand to witness the late-night police crackdown, issued a statement today condemning the city's actions and saying they violate a crowd control police the NLG helped the city write to settle lawsuits stemming from the OPD's use of rubber bullets to clear anti-war protesters from the Port of Oakland back in 2003.

“Like we saw last Tuesday, the OPD actions in the late night hours violated numerous provisions of the Crowd Control Policy and the Constitutional rights of activists,” explained NLG’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter president Michael Flynn. “Our legal observers did not disobey any police orders and neither did many of the other arrestees.”
“The Crowd Control Policy clearly prohibits shooting munitions into a crowd,” added NLG attorney Rachel Lederman. “While the police are allowed to use tear gas, they are supposed to use a minimum amount and only where other crowd control tactics have failed.  It is not at all clear that less violent and less provocative measures would not have sufficed to achieve any legitimate law enforcement objectives last night.”

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee has reportedly assured OccupySF that he won't follow through on threats to raid the camp if tents aren't removed, at least not anytime soon (many observers speculate that he'll at least wait until after next week's mayoral election). But Lee has been unwilling to make a clear public statement that raids are now off the table.

When we sought to clarify Lee's position and get his reaction to a Board of Supervisors resolution calling for the city to allow a 24/7 encampment, his Press Secretary Christine Falvey wrote: “The mayor has not focused on the resolution, but has been focusing on meeting with clergy, labor, occupysf demonstrators and his department heads to make sure that the site is kept clean, safe and accessible for everyone. He remains concerned about overnight camping and the public health and safety issues that brings. That said, he has seen some good progress over the last few days because of his open communication with the group. DPW cleaned up the site over the weekend and the demonstrators helped facilitate the cleanup. Tents were moved off the Bocce Ball Court as well. The group is working with Fire and Public Health officials to make some improvements. The dialogue is ongoing.”

Photos by Steven T. Jones


it's not entirely reasonable that the cops seek to stop that. If it were a small number of people doing that, the cops would employ normal tactics - simply move in and arrest them. but if a large crowd are holed up and refusing to elave when ordered, then the cops really don't have a choice. they can't just allow a crowd to commit crimes and do nothing. I feel sure you understand that.

Tear gas has no long-term harmful effects and is widely used to disprese rampant mobs, which is what this protest became.

You can't blame the Mayor or the cops for what happened. In fact, they kept a remarkably low profile until they had no chocie. You have to ask yourself why this movement contains elements that have no regard to law or pirvate property. the Tea Party doesn't behave like that and they're angry too. Why the difference?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 03, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

I don't agree that every illegal act requires an immedite police response. Sometimes it's more wise to wait for the right moment.  I don't understand what the harm would have been in allowing the protesters to remain in the vacant building overnight, particularly given the size of the crowd and the provocative nature of riot police after a day like this. But again, I'm curious what the city's explanation will be because they really haven't offered one yet, beyond dark suggestions that something bad was brewing.

For every action, there is a reaction. The massive day of protest and smattering of vandalism yesterday was a reaction to last week's police raid, which was a reaction to the occupation that was a reaction to gross economic injustice that the political system has condoned and perpetuated. If the police had stood down and allowed the day of action to end, the situation would have de-escalated. But now we're in the same place we were before, with a lot of tension and mistrust on both sides.

As for the radicals, every movement has them. The Tea Party had people bringing guns to town squares and political meetings and aggressively intimidating politicians who support Obama's health care law. And Wall Street has lots of greedy sociopaths whose actions have caused untold harm to millions of people, but who continue to be coddled by Wall Street and the White House, a problem far more destructive and insidious than some angry black bloc kids who get a kick out of breaking windows and having standoffs with the cops.

And soon as they deal with their bad apples, we'll get a little more aggressive in dealing with ours. Until then, I think everyone needs to keep this very dynamic situation in perspective.

Posted by steven on Nov. 03, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

Wait till the election, then I'm going to unleash the cops.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 03, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

Why is breaking the window of a bank or destroying property in general for that matter, necessarily a violent action?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

smash all your windows, destroy all your property, scare the crap out of you, and then ask you that question again?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

Traditionally, an agent provocateur (plural: agents provocateurs, French for "inciting agent(s)") is a person employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act.

The above comment, meant to defame Occupy Wall Street, was written by an agent provocateur / troll.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

Breaking a window of a bank or destroying property It is violent, because it is the application of destructive force. It is disingenuous to suggest that violence only consists of applying destructive force to a person.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

Violence is what the banks are doing to people's homes.

Violence is what Wall Street has done to America.

Violence is what insurance companies do to people when they let them die by denying lifesaving medical care.

Violence is what the cops did to Scott Olsen.

No one is condoning the breaking of some bank window. Not me, not the vast majority of the Occupy movement, who try to stop anything like that when they see it. But there is something profoundly disturbing about those who wish to focus on the violence of breaking a bank window, and close their eyes to the violence which provoked that action. When you repeatedly denounce the violence of breaking a bank window, and say nothing about all the violence that made people angry enough to do it, you imply that the former is somehow worse. And that, is indicative of a moral compass that is profoundly off kilter.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

I used to read from pro-lifers who were not all that upset about the killing of abortion doctors.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 7:43 pm
Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

They were saying that murder isn't as bad as abortion. I'm saying that violence to windows isn't as bad as violence to people. This is actually the opposite argument!

Enough of this bullshit demagoguery. I'm not here to score rhetorical points. Let me ask you straight up -do you believe that violence to windows is as bad or worse than violence to people? Yes or no?

If you do, then I'm sorry, but you're a sick freak.

If you don't, then why are you focusing virtually exclusively on the reaction of the broken window, as opposed to the violence that provoked that reaction?

Posted by Greg on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

"Let me greg set the terms and a dare you not to agree with me." A typical true believer tactic.

You are rationalizing disparate events. We all do it of course, I'm sure I do it too, I'm just pointing it out in this case.

Parent basement dwelling anarchist trustifarians smash some windows and it bugs you, but something sorta associated with their childlike sense of entitlement to break shit bothers you, so you make excuses and deflect.

IN the 80's I worked with pro-lifers who would hem and haw over doc killing and then complain about the murder of all those children.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 6:57 am

You hem and haw over the crimes of the bankers and then complain when someone breaks a window.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 7:54 am

"The same argument I used to read from pro-lifers who were not all that upset about the killing of abortion doctors."
Posted by matlock on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

"You are rationalizing disparate events."
Posted by matlock on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 6:57 am

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 11:10 am

At a point, violence is an understandable reaction to utter, total injustice. It’s crucial to see as violence, actions which have been done repeatedly to keep the things the way they are.
Everywhere people understand the fighting for life, for justice. What people want first in the world is safety for their family. Second is justice. I saw it in S. Africa, Chad, and other areas in my lifetime of travels. Everyone understands fighting for one's life, but where injustice is not blatant violence, violence can be and has been an effective, perhaps the only recourse of action at periods throughout history. You are getting screwed so deeply, you must react.
Some civil rights actions, some Apartheid and revolution movements come to a point where you must fight and move beyond.

Posted by mgrooms on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

That didn't work out so well.

It took 70 years to get rid of the far worse violence.

The Iranians got rid of the Shah and got something far worse.

Making excuses for America's scummy professional rioters is stupid.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 7:01 am

"It took 70 years to get rid of the far worse violence."

Worse than what, one might ask? Worse than the system it replaced, where literally 90% of the population were serfs, essentially slaves in everything but name? No, it wasn't worse. As bad as communism was, even during the minority of those 70 years that were presided over by Stalin, it wasn't worse. Meanwhile, under capitalism, life expectancy has fallen by 10 years. Essentially, it's a system that causes tens of millions of people to go to an early grave through lack of health care and food insecurity. It's still violence, it's actually violence that kills more people; it's just executed more elegantly.

But the Big Lie here resides not so much in the historical misinformation, as in the frame itself -The Lie of the False Dichotomy. This movement isn't calling for communism. It's not even calling for the end of capitalism, so much as the end of a particular *type* of predatory, parasitic capitalism that concentrates wealth and creates nothing of value. There's a certain segment of society who don't work, they don't create; they push paper, make money off dividends and fees and interest, resell junk securities and slice and dice them and present them as AAA rated investments... they rig the rules of the game and then steal from you and I when we inevitably lose at the game they rigged so that only they can win. And they rake in billions while ordinary people suffer.

And then they have the gall to tell us that there's no other way, that the only other option is dictatorial communism. Well in case you haven't noticed, nobody is buying The Big Lie anymore. There is another way, and the people out in the streets are fighting for it.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 8:38 am

The idea that the government which the Iranian Revolution established is 'worse' than the U.S./CIA installed Shah is utterly laughable. For all its deep faults, that new government has freed the Iranians from colonization, and made Iran the most powerful nation in the region.

I would add to Greg's comments above that those rich who make money manipulating paper and accounts also make a huge amount of it by buying land and buildings and then charging all of the rest of us rents.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 9:19 am