Police State in Oakland? One Reporter's Arrest Contradicts Official Story
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"Everybody on the ground, you're under arrest! Everybody on the ground, you're under arrest!" the officer yelled through his gas mask, gesturing with his baton.
As I slipped my camera in my pocket and dropped to the ground, I couldn't help but think: This wasn't part of the plan.
At least not my plan.
A series of escalations at Occupy Oakland following Wednesday, November 2nd's General Strike culminated in 101 arrests between 1 and 2 am on Thursday morning -- including my own.
Interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan called the arrestees "generally anarchists and provocateurs" in a statement later Thursday. Despite Oakland Mayor Jean Quan's claims that the city would not be calling for mutual aid--a call for supporting forces from surrounding police agencies to reinforce OPD--in future engagements with Occupy Oakland demonstrators, Jordan called in the order around 4 p.m., following the vandalizing of several large banks, a Whole Foods and a few smaller businesses in the downtown area.
While police from around the Bay Area geared up for a confrontation, Occupy Oakland was shifting strategies. Shortly after 10 p.m., occupiers descended upon the foreclosed Traveler's Aid Society building at 520 16th Street. It was a calculated escalation, at least in theory: forcing the police to defend the rights of the property owners or the people, effectively choosing loyalty to the 1 or the 99 percent. The scene was joyous but chaotic, a dance party punctuated by calls to "reinforce the perimeters." Just before 11 p.m., as local agencies led by the Oakland Police Department drove south toward the plaza, a banner was unfurled from the top of the building, declaring it a community center and free school.
At the same time, barricades were built up at either end of 16th street. Garbage cans, tires, wooden palettes and furniture were piled in a vain but aggressive attempt to protect the occupied building. A police helicopter circled lower and lower overhead, drowning out the arguments between peaceful protestors and those looking for confrontation. At 11:33 p.m., I tweeted, "nearly run over by black bloc pushing dumpster into growing barricade."
At some point over the 15 minutes it took me to make my way north to document the police mobilization, those barricades were lit on fire. As I stood at 17th and Telegraph looking south from behind the police line -- first held by Oakland police, then less hardcore troops from San Leandro -- a column of black smoke snaked up between the office buildings. 12:01 a.m.: "three minutes to leave, police: 'mask up!!'"
As police blocked streets leading to the plaza and began firing tear gas down Telegraph, I was not the only one tweeting with urgency. Mayor Quan was also on the soapbox, urging protestors to get in touch in the midst of the melee.
12:06 a.m. Reports that tires are burning and barricades set up on 16th. Protestors need to call my office now.
12:09 a.m. OPD has not taken action. Smoke is from burning barricade. I'll say it again, protestors need to call now.
She hasn't updated since.
At 12:25 a.m., as the flames continued to grow, a dispersal order was made from an LRAD (long range acoustic device) at 17th and Telegraph calling for demonstrators to "disperse down Broadway and Telegraph" directly to the south.
The skirmish line one block to the west at 16th and San Pablo seemed comparatively peaceful. At 12:45 a.m., reporters were clustered behind two lines of police at the intersection, just north of the entrance to Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza.