Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Police Raid Occupy Oakland

At nearly 4:00 a.m., it looked like a false alarm.

About an hour earlier, several residents of Occupy Oakland had noticed a caravan of about 20 Oakland Police Department patrol cars drive past the encampment, then disappear. Police radios pinned their location at 14th and Clay, so the protesters built barricades of wooden planks, dumpsters and even dirty couches.

Then they waited. And waited.

Forty minutes later, some 400 police officers from 16 different agencies swept into the encampment, evicting the protesters from the public plaza in front of City Hall, arresting 79 people, and dismantling the tent city set up two weeks ago as an extension of the national Occupy protest movement.

The operation was a massive coordinated effort that caught even the most prepared protesters, on edge after several city eviction notices, by surprise.

There were no injuries to police or protesters and "minimal property damage," Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said. "I'm very pleased with the way things went."

At a press briefing later Tuesday morning, city administrator Deanna Santana said she had planned the raid and obtained assistance from other law enforcement agencies, but among protesters and police Mayor Jean Quan was largely viewed as the guiding force behind the city’s decision to permit the tent city.

Quan, who did not return a call for comment, was absent from the news conference Tuesday because she is in Washington, D.C., Santana said.

Still, protesters had anticipated a raid for days.

“She’s the new mayor, she’s got her progressive agenda,” protester Gabe Myers said about Quan Monday. “They don’t want to be seen as heavy-handed, but at the same time they want to see us go.”

Since Occupy Oakland's inception, protesters have tried to keep police out of the camp. But protesters had anticipated a raid for several days. At about 2:45 a.m., they finally took to twitter: “Cops are here please come help.”

But by 4:30 a.m., when protesters, some cradling cups of cocoa, gathered for a brief and chaotic meeting, police had still not arrived. And it appeared there was still little consensus about how to respond to the possibility of a raid, reflecting the shifting demographics of the protest encampment.

“I have not heard any public discussion of violence,” said Daniel Kaiya, a former computer technician on Wall Street, and now a yoga instructor. “But I’ve heard small groups of people talking about it.”

The protesters that remained were a diverse mix of parents, young activists, artists, musicians, homeless, and other Oakland residents. Jordan said a large portion of protesters came from outside of the city. Many obscured their faces with bandanas, and a few wore gas masks and carried sticks.

“OK, we’re all here for Occupy, right?” yelled a young woman at the start of the meeting, to a resounding affirmative reply.

“And we’re all here for nonviolence, right?” she yelled, prompting a mixture of yeses and nos.

Minutes later, as the tired protesters splintered off into smaller groups to discuss their next move, the sound of motorcycles filled the air. Protesters began running toward the entrance to the camp, where they were met by rows of police, who had approached on foot.

At about 4:40 a.m., more than 400 officers from Oakland, Hayward, Vacaville, the California Highway Patrol, and other agencies surrounded the encampment, easily outnumbering the nearly 200 protesters and overwhelming the makeshift barricades.

Protesters crowded into the corner of the encampment closest to Broadway and 14th, locked arms, and began chanting “You are the 99 percent!” as police moved slowly in.


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“Attention, all persons of Frank Ogawa Plaza,” an officer announced. “This is the Oakland Police Department. It has been determined you are illegally blocking Frank Ogawa Plaza and are subject to arrest.”

The department advised protesters to gather their belongings, secure their dogs and exit toward Telegraph Avenue. After six announcements, and another five minute warning, officers declared the protest an unlawful assembly.

A few protesters began lighting firecrackers and throwing bottles. Police responded with bean bag guns and tear gas, which floated backwards towards officers and reporters standing behind them.

“I didn’t realize this is what we were up against,” said Alex Matkin, who had been camping in Snow Park when he heard about the arrests. “I thought there were gonna be 50-60 officers. They came out in full force.”

Within fifteen minutes, the tent city was flattened. Police had handcuffed most of the remaining protesters with zip-ties and walked them down 14th Street to Clay, where Alameda County Sheriff’s Office buses waited to take them to jail.

As the remaining protesters moved down the street, officers grew more relaxed. One group took a photo with a “Revolution” sign, left in the wreckage. Others reflected on the experience.

Few agreed with the city’s decision to allow the tent city, but they said they sympathized with the protesters.

“We are the 99 percent,” one officer said.

“I agree. I hate corporate greed. I hate Bush,” said one veteran officer. “But we’ve got to have law and order, or else it’s like a third world country. The guns will be in the hands of the bad guys.”

Late Tuesday morning, officers continued to barricade 14th at Broadway and Jefferson, while others tagged and bagged protesters' belongings for pickup. Sergeant Holly Joshi said clean-up would take only a few hours. The city advised employees to come back to work.

City Hall and two buildings adjacent to the plaza were closed to the public all day. The City Council cancelled its weekly meeting.

In a statement, Santana’s office said that the plaza “will remain closed until public health and safety conditions can be improved; this includes debris, human waste and hazardous materials removal.”

“Once the health and safety hazards on the Plaza are resolved, the City will re-open the Plaza as soon as practical to allow peaceful daytime assembly. No camping or overnight stays will be permitted,” the statement read.

Some protesters mourned the tent city’s loss.

“I was super amazed what such different people can do for each other,” said a protester who identified herself as Marie. “It was beautiful.”

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