Thousands of Riot Cops Descend on Occupy Oakland, 32 Arrested
At approximately 5 am, hundreds of police officers clad in heavy riot gear descended on the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza and proved definitively that the hyper-militarized crowd control tactics that brought so much national attention to the city in recent weeks were unnecessary uses of excessive force.
Several local police agencies contributed as many as 1,000 officers for the eviction, according to reports. They shut down a wide perimeter around the plaza and then moved up, block by block, in heavy lines, until the mass of protesters was pushed into the intersection of 14th and Broadway. Then, a large phalanx of riot police moved into the plaza itself, where they arrested 32 people who had chosen to remain in the camp in an act of civil disobedience.
At one point, police moved in and arrested about a dozen people huddled in a circle in silent prayer at the interfaith tent.
When I departed, police were tearing down tents and clearing the plaza. There were no reports of injuries, according to a National Lawyers Guild legal observer on the scene.
This was a striking departure from the tactics that Bay Area law enforcement agencies, working in cooperation with the Oakland Police Department, had employed on October 25th and the night of November 2nd. While police crowd control techniques are rarely pretty, people facing off with riot police as part of various occupations around the country probably don't have a good sense of the force used during the first eviction of Occupy Oakland – and during subsequent protests the following night.
It's the explosions and large volume of gunshots that made these actions excessive. The generous use of flash-bang grenades, tear gas and “less lethal” rounds deployed by police in heavy black body armor felt more like the opening scene to Saving Private Ryan than footage of, say, protests against the Vietnam War being broken up by helmeted police swinging batons. While the weapons deployed by police are designed not to kill or maim (if used properly), the visceral sensation of walking through streets dodging explosions and chemical agents while rounds crackle in the air creates an effect similar to that of actual combat – abject terror, disorientation and a sense of unease that lingers for days.
Those weapons do result in wounds – the tally for October 25 and November 2 was three broken hands, two head injuries (one of which, to Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, was quite severe), a ruptured spleen and minor injuries too numerous to catalogue.
This morning, the police, buffeted by bad publicity resulting from two notably violent crack-downs on protesters, simply chose a different method by which to achieve the exact same goal. This time, they chose to follow the book – California's Crowd Management and Civil Disobedience guidelines (PDF) state, “Only that force which is objectively reasonable may be used to arrest violators and restore order,” and, unlike on previous nights in the streets of Oakland, they did just that.
In another departure from past practices, they let the protesters protest. Whereas police issued a series of orders to disperse on the evening of October 25 – and then unleashed a barrage of non-lethal weapons when they did not comply – this time they simply let the crowd blow off steam. The police erected and manned barricades to keep protesters in the intersection, where they chanted for an hour or two before losing steam and dispersing, without violence and of their own accord.
What this morning's eviction had in common with the one two weeks before is that the end-game is just as unclear. Protesters again promise to reclaim the plaza as soon as police leave. The Oakland City Council has reportedly entertained a proposal to hire private security guards to keep the plaza clear, but this is a cash-strapped city and one has to believe that the Occupiers' resolve will outlast the city's private security budget.
Meanwhile, the occupiers plan to “reconvene” at 4 pm at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library. It remains to be seen if the city's smarter, less violent crowd control strategies will continue to prevail.