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Clashes in Oakland: 400 Arrests, Tear Gas, Flash-Bang Grenades

Police once again ratcheted up the tension by using force against an entire crowd of protesters.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Oakland Local

 

Downtown Oakland turned ugly once again on Saturday, as Occupy activists attempting to squat in a long-abandoned city building were met by lines of heavily-armored riot police. Police officials said that 400 arrests followed – a number that may represent as much as 30 percent of everyone who participated in the day's actions, according to police estimates of the crowd's size.

Occupy Oakland organizers said some protesters were hospitalized, but the exact number of injuries is unknown as if this writing. According to organizers, four journalists were swept up by police, including AlterNet contributor Susie Cagle and Mother Jones correspondent Gavin Aronsen. Cagle was reportedly cited and released; organizers say Aronsen was jailed overnight (update: Aronsen tells us that he was released last night).

It was, once again, a tale of two protests. Accounts in the corporate media relied primarily on police statements to paint protesters as wild animals running amok in the city, while those following the day's events via a small group of “citizen-journalists” broadcasting raw, unedited footage from their cell-phones and flip-cams got a wildly divergent view of exactly how things escalated.

A livestream offered by Occupy Oakland's Mark Mason and Chris Krakauer showed protesters approaching the Henry Kaiser Convention Center in the early afternoon, where they were greeted by skirmish lines of police clad in riot gear. At one point, Mason, narrating as he moved through the crowd, could be heard saying, “uh-oh, some people are throwing things at the cops,” before moving away from the front-lines. Later, an Occupier visiting from Los Angeles told Mason of confronting one of the protesters who had thrown an object at police. “That's just stupid, you know,” said the young woman. “And she threw it from the middle of the crowd, which just puts people in the front in danger.”

Police declared the protest an unlawful assembly, and soon afterward, a series of explosions could be heard on the livestream as police deployed either teargas canisters or “flash-bang” grenades to disperse the crowd. This appears to be a violation of the Oakland Police Department's (OPD) own crowd-control guidelines, which were drawn up as part of a settlement of a 2003 suit filed by the National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU of Northern California after a case in which OPD used an abundance of violence against peaceful protesters demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq.

The guidelines state that less-lethal munitions “may never be used indiscriminately against a crowd or group of persons, even if some members of the crowd or group are violent or disruptive.”

“Bean-bag” shotgun rounds and/or rubber-coated steel bullets were also used by police, according to official reports. But OPD may only use less-lethal projectiles against an individual who poses an imminent threat and, even then, the guidelines prohibit their use except when such an “individual can be targeted without endangering other crowd members or bystanders.”

The Associated Press quoted City Administrator Deanna Santana saying that police “responded” to object being thrown “by deploying smoke, tear gas and bean bag rounds.” “These demonstrators stated their intention was to provoke officers and engage in illegal activity and that's exactly what has occurred today."

But OPD's large-scale use of force against the mostly peaceful crowd visibly escalated the tension. “There are fucking kids here!” one activist could be heard shouting on Mark Mason's livestream. “What's wrong with you fucking people?” It was soon after the explosions that protesters began chanting “fuck the pigs!”

Soon after this initial confrontation, the Occupiers retreated back to Frank Ogawa Plaza, which served as the location for their encampment – a tent city that Oakland officials cleared twice last fall. One organizer complimented the majority of activists for remaining peaceful throughout the clash. “Today was the most disciplined I've ever seen Occupy Oakland,” he said.

 
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