Occupy Oakland Protestors Will 'Retake' Plaza: Mayor, Police Blamed for Violence

 
on October 26 2011 7:51 PM
Occupy Wall Street
Efforts from cities and municipalities across the U.S. to evict Occupy demonstrators from their encampments in public areas have sparked federal lawsuits. REUTERS

Occupy Oakland protestors are preparing to march again tonight in another effort to retake Ogawa Plaza, despite the rioting that broke out during Oct. 25's clash with police, resulting in severe injuries to an Iraq war veteran and causing some to claim grounds for Mayor Jean Quan's recall.

Occupy Oakland will reconvene every day, a note on Occupy Oakland's official web site said after police raided the group's camp in Frank Ogawa Plaza, until the camp is reestablished. Protestors are vowing to retake the camp by marching each night until police evacuate Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, where Oakland's tent city had been camped.

The decision to retake the Plaza comes one day after increasingly ratcheted tensions between protestors and Oakland police broke into riots on Oct. 25. Some 500 police officers surrounded the protestors at Ogawa Plaza around 5 a.m. and ordered them to disperse, saying they were illegally blocking the area and were subject to arrest. Cops then tore through the area in a pre-dawn raid, overturning tents, ripping down signs and clearing out all demonstrators.

Twelve hours later, however, Occupy Oakland had reassembled, and begun a rolling protest to try and reclaim Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. Cops used tear gas at least three times to disperse the over 1,000 protestors that had assembled. After some six hours, during which time police donned riot gear, broke out batons, and closed numerous streets, some 102 people had been arrested by Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan and his officers.

Protesters allegedly threw bottles, kitchen utensils and rocks at police, as well as using firecrackers and cops' own barriers to fend law enforcement off during their clash with police. Cops, meanwhile, were recorded using tear gas, smoke grenades, and bean bags full of shotgun pellets that were fired into the crowd.

Arrests Sweep Nation: Who is to Blame?

The Occupy Oakland riots are one of several Occupy Wall Street movements to end in arrests on Tuesday. Fifty-two demonstrators were arrested without incident in Atlanta, Ga. after refusing to vacate Woodruff Park after its 11 p.m. curfew, while two dozen people in Albuquerque, N.M. were arrested after refusing to leave a campsite in the University of New Mexico. Police in Orlando, Fla., while no arrests were made, did begin clearing out protestors from Beth Johnson Park.

None of the forced evacuations, however, have resulted in the kind of violence exhibited in Oakland, Calif. Oakland police, like their neighbors in the LAPD and their coastal counterparts, New York Police, have a reputation for heavy-handedness, and have in the past been subject to numerous allegations of police brutality and abuses of power.

Two of the most high-profile scandals involve the murder of black Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey and the notorious Rough Riders gang in the late 1990s, who beat suspects, planted evidence, and falsified cases in order to obtain bribes and target black citizens in Oakland, Calif. The OPD also came under fire for lobbing teargas and firing rubber bullets into a crowd of anti-Iraq war protestors in 2003, injuring at least 20 people.

With such a record in mind, it comes as no surprise that the most publicized injury from the Oakland riots so far has been that of 24-year-old Scott Olsen, an Occupy protestor who served two tours as a Marine in Iraq before joining Iraq Veterans Against the War. Olsen suffered a blow to the head after being shot with a teargas canister while marching towards City Hall. Scott Olsen is currently at Highland Hospital with a fractured skull. The Associated Press reports that he is in critical condition, and may need surgery.

Blame for the Occupy Oakland violence has also been laid at the feet of Mayor Jean Quan, whom the San Francisco Chronicle reveals had been planning the pre-dawn raid with Jordan and City Administrator Deanna Santana for over a week. Mayor Quan, who had initially supported the protestors, okayed a forced dispersal of Frank H. Ogawa Plaza before flying to Washington, D.C. to raise money for development of the old Oakland Army Base.

I commend Chief Jordan, Mayor Quan posted on her public Facebook page today, for a generally peaceful resolution to a situation that deteriorated and concerned our community. Some 5,000 people have already posted negative comments in response, from citations of the First Amendment to calling Quan a fascist.

Beyond angry Facebook posts, however, an official recall movement, which had begun before Occupy Oakland launched two weeks ago, has taken their first formal steps toward removing Quan from office. The recall petition, spearheaded by Gene Hazzard, blamed Quan for both sides of the violence that broke out at the plaza, citing her for both willingly ignoring public safety issues and for [exhibiting] no leadership or incite [sic] to combat Oakland's growing unemployment.

We have no confidence, the petition read, in her ability to lead, listen or collaborate. Quan, who has been almost entirely absent from both the Occupy Oakland aftermath and the recall, made a brief statement today regarding the group's efforts, has declined to comment on whether the recall may be successful.

Will Occupy Violence Spread?

One group that has not gotten as much attention for the outbreak of violence on Oct. 25, however, and the conditions that led up to it, and the Occupy Oakland protestors themselves.

I'm hoping our city government comes to their senses and stops dealing with us like a fascist state, Samsarah Morgan, one of the protestors, said this morning. The main reason for the evacuation, however, at least officially, was and is a health and safety issue.

Protestors at Occupy Oakland violated a host of city codes outside of the demonstrations themselves, including laws against public defecation, pitching tents and keeping pets overnight in public areas, and selling and smoking marijuana and other drugs. Visitors to the plaza and law enforcement reports indicate a rat infestation, substantial amounts of food and fecal waste, and numerous other violations of public health codes.

And while the OPD has been roundly condemned for their use of force against the protestors, police have also charged demonstrators with unnecessary violence. They threw plates at us like frisbees, said one officer, while others reported protestors throwing skillets and large rocks at them, spraying fire extinguishers, and even setting off small-level explosives in an effort to deter the evacuation.

Oakland's history of police abuses is matched, meanwhile, by the California city's own history as a hotbed of social activism, from the formation of the Black Panther Party to its protest of Oakland's prison expansion in 2007. It and nearby Berkeley are catchnames for social activism and protest, and for using whatever means necessary to get their messages out.

Such a perfect storm of police abuses, hotbed protests and mayoral absence could only have happened in Oakland, and it is unlikely that such a storm of violent clashes and publicity-crowded riots will spread beyond the California protests.

Despite Mayor Quan and Chief Jordan's intentions, however, the fact remains that their raid, driven as it was by hundreds of men with both badges and guns, makes Oakland law enforcement look worse and Occupy Oakland much better. The still-critical condition of an Iraq war veteran stacks the deck even more against them, as the story of Scott Olsen's injuries begins to spread.

Your decisions, poster Rob Vein wrote Mayor Quan on her public Facebook page today, will only gain momentum for the occupy movement, and the occupiers of your city will only re-establish a base twice its size. As Oakland, Calif. waits in anticipation of further violence between police and protestors tonight and in the days to come, Occupy Wall Street splinter groups from around the country are taking up Oakland's resolve, even if they choose not to do so with violence.

I'll be right here the next day, Rhadona Stark of the Albuquerque, N.M. protests said on Oct. 25, echoing the sentiments of protestors across America. This isn't over.

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