Tear Gas, Batons and Rubber Bullets in Violent Police Repression of Occupy Oakland

Chaz Bolte Jan 30, 2012

Saturday Night violence broke out in the streets of Oakland after members of the Occupy Movement stormed first the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and later City Hall to mark what they called in an open letter on their website “Move In Day.” Occupy Oakland seeks to build a community center in which they can serve the public. The vacant Convention Center was just the first stop of the day which also saw protesters briefly occupying a downtown YMCA. The long day of protest ended with over 400 arrests according to the Oakland Tribune, which also reported on the excessively violent tactics that have been used by the Oakland PD.

Occupy Oakland protesters broke into City Hall, stole an American flag from the City Council chamber and set it on fire Saturday night, punctuating a wild day in which police deployed tear gas, arrested more than 400 marchers and dodged hurling objects.

Saturday marked the first major clashes between protesters and police since November and left three officers with minor injuries, as protesters threw bottles, metal pipes, rocks, spray cans and "improvised explosive devices," police said.

Late Saturday, paramedics wheeled a pregnant protester away from Frank H. Ogawa Plaza after witnesses said she was hit in the kidney by a police baton. She yelled: "Police did this to me!"

The Occupy Movement as a whole is dedicated to peaceful demonstrations of non-violence. This specific Occupy Group, however, has in the past been perceived as 'pushing the limits" of non-violent protest by blocking ports and threatening to block other public utilities. Much of this aggressive action comes as a response to the brutal tactics that have been used by the Oakland PD for the past decades. The police brutality experienced by ethnic minorities in the city is what led so many to join the Occupy Oakland movement in the first place. Occupy Oakland described the brutal reaction they met from police Saturday night on their website.

Protesters were met with baton strikes, shot with rubber bullets, and exposed to tear gas along the route. Police immediately issued denials that tear gas was used; however, as many victims can attest, it was used freely and without regard to safety of the diverse crowd, which included families and children.

The tactics of the Oakland PD, as described by one of the protesters on his blog, Name is Goob,  show that police created a situation that would result in a riot in order to make mass arrests. The police also violated many of their own crowd patrol regulations.

If you only remember one detail be it this: Tonight's mass arrest occurred without a dispersal order. No law was broken. The only order given was: "You are under arrest. Submit to your arrest." 300 peaceful protesters walking down a street were trapped and arrested unlawfully.

This protester also noted that the Oakland P.D. are stepping up their capabilities and resources, turning the bay area into a scene we would imagine in Occupied Iraq.

A note about police militarization: I saw some big guns and scary gear tonight. Alameda County Sheriff seems to have an endless budget for that shit. But tonight I saw something much scarier, that I've never seen before. First, I saw that the police have a printed profile books of protesters. I saw a cop flipping through pictures with descriptions, talking about who on their list they've seen today. When resting in Oscar Grant Plaza, a cop was filming the plaza from a rooftop in an adjacent building. They're always filming, some have cameras on their bodies now, but this was clear spying and sophisticated intelligence gathering and analysis.

While Occupy Oakland’s acts have been daring, they have not been the type of quasi-terrorist activities the City and Police have described. The police and city’s actions are one of the main factors turning this non-violent movement to violence. The Occupy Oakland website described some of the unconstitutional tactics used by the Oakland PD Saturday night as well as the total costs that lawsuits from these tactics will cost the city.

In the evening, police illegally kettled and arrested hundreds of protesters. Police can give notices to disperse, if a group is engaged in illegal activity. However, if the group disperses and reassembles somewhere else, they are required to give another notice to disperse. Tonight, they kettled a march in progress, and arrested hundreds for refusing to disperse. Contrary to their own policy, the OPD gave no option of leaving or instruction on how to depart. These arrests are completely illegal, and this will probably result in another class action lawsuit against the OPD who have already cost Oakland $58 million in lawsuits over the past 10 years.

Along with the violent actions in November, when Oakland used flash grenades and tear gas on American protesters, just weeks after receiving negative publicity for leaving  Iraq veteran and protester Scott Olsen near death, the over 300 arrests on Saturday night are the clearest example of the pattern of violence against citizens that has been allowed under the watch of Mayor Jean Quan. Mayor Quan first embraced the Occupy protests before bending to the police and allowing them to breakup the Occupy encampment. recently commented on her pattern of flip flopping on Occupy Oakland and the overall violence such indecision can cause.

After a series of violent episodes, including a clash in which a Marine veteran of Iraq suffered a fractured skull when struck by a projectile in a confrontation with the police, Ms. Quan relented and permitted the protesters to return to the plaza. But two weeks later, in response to fears of renewed violence, she ordered the plaza cleared again.

Occupy Oakland’s goal of Occupying abandoned buildings and putting them to use for the good community has garnered support and admiration from the community. However, destructive actions engaged in by a smaller faction of Occupy Oakland protesters, although antagonized by an oppressive police force, are less likely to increase the  movement’s longevity. The City has pegged the price tag for Occupy Oakland at $5 million.

The anti-corporate message of Occupy Oakland remains peaceful and positive. But the actions of rogue protesters, such as those who reportedly burned an American flag while briefly occupying City Hall, are likely to be portrayed as the extreme reactions of a bold and assertive nonviolent movement.

Chaz Bolte is a native of Pittsburgh, PA where he attended Slippery Rock University. Currently living in Brooklyn he contributes to WePartyPatriots, Addicting Info,and Secret Party Room. You can follow him on Twitter @ChazBolte.

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