Inside the Shocking Police Crackdown on Occupy Oakland: Tear Gas Used, 85 Arrested
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Over the last two weeks I've seen a community rise up seemingly out of nowhere -- one based on consensus decision-making and strong anti-oppression values for all people involved. One that included free food and a clean kitchen, a community garden, free school and twice-daily yoga.
Last night I saw that community torn apart by a show of force so grossly outrageous in terms of mass of force, brutality, and cost to an already broke city that nearly shut down most of its libraries, and is on the verge of closing schools.
All day rumors of an impending eviction had been swirling around the tent city occupation in Frank Ogawa Plaza. After several nights of false alarms, campers seemed split over what to believe on Monday. It was Occupy Oakland's two-week anniversary, and a group of demonstrators partied at the 14th and Broadway plaza entrance with cake, balloons and dancing. The General Assembly was smaller; there were clearly more tents missing than on the previous day. But people were engaged, and strides were made. Someone announced that a nearby church had donated use of its kitchen for the Occupation. There would no longer be a need for the propane the city had found so problematic. There was more talk of growing the camp than defending it. When I went home around 2:30am to feed my cat and charge my phone, I felt confident the plaza was safe for the night.
Halfway through my tea I read on Twitter that campers had spotted police mobilizing a few blocks from the camp. By the time I arrived back at the plaza, campers had barricaded the perimeter of the camp as well as the entrances to the plaza. I walked the perimeter and didn't see any police, so I entered the camp, where feelings were tense. That's when I heard the roar of police motorcycles on Broadway. By the time I pulled my video camera out and crossed the street, about 500 Oakland police and supporting troops from more than a dozen nearby departments were mobilizing in riot gear, clubs and guns in hand. They announced that by remaining in the camp, protestors might face "chemical agents" and "bodily injury."
I couldn't get the man making the announcements to meet my eye.
A few minutes later, police broke their lines and some of the news vans along 14th were allowed to leave. It was then I noticed that I and a couple dozen others who were primarily filming the police action were now between a second and third line of officers. We were pinned. I heard a few pops, a flash, a crack, and saw a puff of white smoke that kept growing. Suddenly we were moving quickly down 14th street, followed by a cloud of tear gas. At least 85 protesters were arrested, of the approximately 200 who remained in the plaza. Many remain in jail on $7,500-$10,000 bails awaiting arraignment on Thursday.
More than an hour later, after shutting down much of downtown Oakland within a large barricaded perimeter, and after the end of park curfew at 6am, police mobilized to clear out Snow Park, the expansion sister camp to the main plaza. Several protesters were arrested there after refusing to leave their camp, which had been facing eviction notices for nearly a week. The demonstrators there had brought a manual lawnmower and were maintaining the overgrown park; they had no portable toilets or sanitation issues; and they were not cooking with an open flame. When asked why they were arrested during open park hours, one officer responded that the park was "a crime scene" so it could be closed at any time. At that point I couldn't help but laugh. "I'm serious," he said.