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City of Oakland’s Increasing Hostility Toward the Occupy Movement

Screen shot from Spencer Mills' recorded footage of mass arrest outside YMCA

Over 300 people were arrested in Oakland after police ordered a march of Occupy Oakland protesters to “submit” to an arrest because they were engaged in an unlawful assembly. Hundreds were detained outside of a YMCA. In zip cuffs, many waited for hours to be escorted to a police vehicle and hauled away.

One group of protesters managed to escape detention and get into the YMCA building, when it became apparent the police were not going to let anyone leave. That group was able to go out another entrance to the building and get away from police.

The mass arrest took place hours after Oakland police in riot gear fired off all manner of weapons at protesters to “disperse ” them as they tried to take over a vacant building and transform it into a community center. These weapons included tear gas, smoke, percussion grenades, paint-filled bullets, etc.

Occupy Oakland Media reacted to the use of force by Oakland police:

Yesterday, the Oakland Police deployed hundreds of officers in riot gear so as to prevent Occupy Oakland from putting a building, vacant for 6 years with no plans for use, from being occupied and “re-purposed” as a community center. The Occupy Oakland GA passed a proposal calling for the space to be turned into a social center, convergence center and headquarters of the Occupy Oakland movement.

The police actions tonight cost the city of Oakland hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they repeatedly violated their own crowd control guidelines and protesters civil rights.

With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority? Was it worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent?

In sharp contrast, the City of Oakland declared at 10:30 pm, as protesters will still being detained outside the YMCA:

After ignoring a dispersal order, at approximately 6:30 pm, the arrest protesters invaded the YMCA and were arrested.

Simultaneously, a different group of protesters burnt an American flag in front of Oakland City Hall before breaking into the historic building. Damage to exhibits has been reported. Officers will be making arrests on site.“There is no excuse for the behavior we experienced this evening,” said Council President Larry Reid when responding to aninquiry about damage to City Hall.

“From their own posts and their letter to the Mayor and City Council, the demonstrators’ stated intention was to provoke the police and engage inillegal activity,” said City Administrator Deanna J. Santana.

As of this release, the total arrests are estimated at 200. Three police officers and one protester have been injured and three private vehicles have been vandalized.

The statement (which was clearly rushed out for the establishment press, as it is filled with typos) may be accurate, but it does not reflect what live streamer Spencer Mills (@OakFoSho) captured when he was broadcasting live from the scene. Recorded video footage from the scene shows officers did not give a dispersal order. They pushed protesters toward the YMCA and would not let them leave the scene as they ordered them to “submit” to the arrest. The protesters then did what anyone would do as a battalion of riot police closed in on them: they found the nearest escape route, which happened to be through an entrance to the building. [*See the 30-min mark of the video below.]


The city claims Occupy Oakland committed vandalism in City Hall. There is no excuse for vandalism. The city claims an electrical box and art structures were damaged. Again, inexcusable but where is the evidence of this happening outside of city officials stating this happened? City officials have demonstrated a clear animosity toward the protesters during the action that unfolded today and prior. Are we to believe they are not exaggerating the damage to the “historic building”?

Earlier in the day, protesters threw objects at officers. Those objects included rocks and bottles. There is virtually no evidence of flares or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) being thrown at officers. Yet, the city’s statement still maintains they were thrown at police. [And, IEDs is a nice way of characterizing “firecrackers” so protesters can seem more like violent extremists.]

I will not condone the throwing of objects at police, but the video captured by Mills, who was also at the scene when percussion grenades, tear gas and other weapons were being fired by police, calls into question the statements by the city that protesters were “charging” police. Yes, they were advancing on the riot police, slowly. A handful, like any protest, were egging on the riot police. But, if you watch the video the moment the riot police move on the protesters they immediately fall back. They do not let the police charge into them, which raises doubts about whether it was ever necessary to fire off any chemical weapons at protesters to force the crowd to disperse.

Additionally, statements to the press by police officers, city officials and the mayor are noteworthy because they seek to cast Occupy Oakland protesters as “domestic terrorists.” In fact, one Oakland city council member actually likens the protests to “domestic terrorism.” Those are the member’s words.

Quan told the press: This is not a situation where we had a 1,000 peaceful people and a few violent people. If you look at what’s happening today in terms of destructing property, throwing at and charging the police, it’s almost like they are begging for attention and hoping that the police will make an error.” And she called on Occupy Oakland to “stop using Oaklandas their playground.”

Deputy Chief Jeff Israel stated:

I would expect in the future, especially after what happened tonight, the level of violence and everything that preceded this on the internet, all their tweets, which they know we read, their intent is to commit acts of violence and vandalism and break into something that doesn’t belong to them.

Israel does not have to be specific. He is permitted to make a sweeping generalization about the protesters, one that casts them as nothing but individuals who intend to commit violence even though that was never the stated intention of the movement at all. And, while it is true they were going to “break into something” that didn’t belong to them, that was the act of resistance, which the city police should have handled after it happened.

Imagine if the police had let the occupiers take the building and then did what they thought they had to do immediately afterward to remove the occupiers. The rest of the day would not have been spent chasing protesters around downtown Oakland.

This is what police and the city refuse to admit. They created this problem. The occupiers had an encampment. They raided the encampment. Now, occupiers protest regularly and treat the city like a “playground” or the space that it is supposed to be for peaceable assemblies. Occupiers plan actions and, since the movement is about occupying, they constantly seek out space to hold as a hub for political action.

If the city was run by reasonable people, officials would grant occupiers the right to be in a space because the reality is that no matter how much they whine, seek to malign them as terrorists and deploy police force against protesters the Occupy movement in the Bay Area is not going to go away. In fact, force and mass arrests will only catalyze the movement further. There is too much of a culture of activism in the Bay Area for repression to successfully suppress the movement.

Quan told police: “Were there some mistakes made? There may be. I would say the Oakland police and our allies, so far a small percentage of mistakes. “But quite frankly, a majority of protesters who were charging the police were clearly not being peaceful.” She mentioned that the city was in contact with a “federal monitor” late Saturday. This means whatever was happening presumably had the consent of the federal government.

The mayor doubled down on the use of force after informing the press she was in contact with a monitor, “If the demonstrators think that because we are working more closely with the monitor now that we won’t do what we have to do to uphold the law and try keep people safe in this city, they’re wrong.”

But, this is the official Oakland Police Department crowd control policy:

If after a crowd disperses pursuant to a declaration of unlawful assembly and subsequently participants assemble at a different geographic location where the participants are engaged in non-violent and lawful First Amendment activity, such an assembly cannot be dispersed unless it has been determined that it is an unlawful assembly and the required official declaration has been adequately given. [emphasis added]

There never was an order. Officers presumed that because they had ordered “marchers” to disperse earlier that the new assembly in front of the YMCA did not need any order to disperse. They proceeded to detain the protesters and they arrested hundreds of people, who were given virtually no opportunity to leave the area.

Moreover, one journalist, Gavin Aronsen of Mother Jones was arrested and taken to jail. Susie Cagle and Kristin Hanes, both journalists, were arrested and then “unarrested,” as they managed to convince police they were press.

Sgt. Jeff Thomason and a person with a local CBS news affiliate also described the protesters as “detainees.” The following video features Thomason, who claims officers “have no injuries reported on the detainees right now.” The truth is, no officers on duty check for injuries so they don’t know. They do know what officers were “injured.” That is why Thomason rattles off the details on the three police officers injured, injuries that will be used as part of the justification for the use of force by police. After all, any number of things can be done if you are handling “detainees” and not protesters.

Finally, here is a firsthand account from someone who participated in the actions by Occupy Oakland from the late morning to the late evening. The account by Kevin Army doesn’t dehumanize them by likening them to “domestic terrorists” or “detainees.” He describes a group that tried to do something with the best of intentions and was thwarted. They then protested throughout the rest of the day and night and, while there were individuals who likely engaged in vandalism and violence, this should not define who has been regularly engaging in demonstrations in the Bay Area since October:

One of the remarkable things about Occupy is how kind people are to each other. As I have at other protests here, I met many good and decent people with whom I had great conversations. Most of these people really care about the state of our world, and have embraced this movement with gratitude for having a place where they can figure out ways to take that caring and turn it into tangible action.

In other words, a few occupiers probably committed acts they should not have and should be held responsible. Likewise, the police committed acts and those that violated the rights of citizens deserve to be held responsible too.

One might find the amount of police that violated people’s rights is proportional to the number of protesters that damaged property or threw objects at police. And, so one might ask themselves if the city is at fault here for increasing the level of hostility toward protesters from the Bay Area?

Consider the fact there are police spokespeople and city officials likening the movement to “domestic terrorism.” Convincing Bay Area residents that this movement is being fueled by violent extremists is all officials have to do before they can justify any number of civil liberties violations, some of which were seen January 28. What government at all levels is able to do to African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other historically dehumanized or marginalized groups is possible once officials successfully cast Occupy Oakland participants as boogeymen.

So, here’s the critical question: Is the city in some way to blame for laying the groundwork for ugly violent scenes, like what occurred January 28, to unfold?

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."