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Oakland Police Violence Raises the Stakes for the OWS Movement

Despite the police's inept, violent crowd control tactics, a number of protesters said they were steadfast in their goal of reclaiming the space.

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After the police assault, similar scenes played out through much of the rest of the night. A group of around 400-500 protesters would approach Frank Ogawa Plaza, and the police would order them to disperse. Here's what they said each time:

 This is Sgt X with the Oakland Police Department. I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly. You must leave the area of X immediately. You can disperse via X street, heading in X direction. If you do not disperse immediately, you will be subject to arrest, regardless of your purpose. If you do not disperse immediately, chemical agents will be used. If you do not disperse immediately, you will be subject to forcible removal, which may result in serious injury.

The problem is that we're taught from an early age that we have a right to peaceably assemble and protest. This right is guaranteed by the Constitution and can't be over-ridden by the city of Oakland. It's not an accurate view of the law, which is more nuanced, but it is pervasive. So protesters did not acknowledge that they were assembling unlawfully, they remained, and then the tear gas came flying. This happened again and again for much of the night.

As I mentioned several times on Twitter during the rounds of approaches and retreats, the police response last night wasn't the most brutal I've seen (that honor goes to the dozen Florida police agencies that descended on Miami to crush protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2002), but it was the most inept. By aggressively boxing in protesters again and again, law enforcement simply ratcheted up the pressure for no apparent purpose.

A Move Oakland Will Come to Regret

“You see all these people here?” a protester asked, as we rinsed the residue of tear gas out of our eyes a few blocks from Frank Ogawa Plaza. “They're all going home more radicalized than when they arrived.”

He was probably right – this kind of crowd control doesn't deter protesters, it steels them. On Tuesday, I only heard more resolve as the evening progressed. 

These occupiers aren't going away. And that raises a question for which I've seen no answer: what is the supposed end-game here? It took 100 police from a number of different agencies in the Bay Area clad in riot gear who are earning overtime to stand guard over a quarter-acre of public space in downtown Oakland. I have no idea how much it cost in overtime, but it must be a fortune. And then there's the opportunity cost – police standing a line against protesters aren't out catching bad guys, writing speeding tickets, etc.

Meanwhile, a number of protesters said they were steadfast in their goal of reclaiming the space and rebuild when they can. If the city thought they would simply go away after the eviction, they made a grave, and costly, miscalculation. (And this city is cash-strapped – just a day after this series of clashes, the city council  was scheduled to vote on a proposal to close a number of Oakland schools.)

Tensions remain high in Oakland. On Monday, a group of Oakland residents  filed a recall petition against Jean Quan – the first step in removing the mayor from office. Evicting Occupy Oakland has already proven to be one of the most costly efforts to enforce “health and safety” regulations in history. It may carry a steep political price as well. 

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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