Sunday was meant to be a daylong ‘rise-up’ festival for Occupy Oakland, held at the site of what was supposed to be the group’s new social center. But when Occupy’s plans on Saturday to take over a building and establish a physical headquarters were foiled by police, Occupy regrouped and moved the gathering to Frank Ogawa Plaza, which it calls Oscar Grant Plaze, in front of city hall.
By early afternoon, about 150 people were milling around, playing music, eating donated food from Everett & Jones BBQ, and trading stories of confrontations with police.
“They tear gassed us in a residential neighborhood in Chinatown,” said Julian Louis-Tabman. “There was little kids and pregnant women in the crowd.”
Besides the numerous tear-gassing incidents, the primary police-related complaint was what’s become known as ‘kettling’: boxing in protesters, then giving them an order to disperse that is impossible to obey because all exit routes have been blocked. Many Occupy Oakland demonstrators say they were ‘kettled’ around 19th and Telegraph, where they were able to escape only by tearing down a fence; and later in front of the YMCA on Broadway, where most of Saturday night’s arrests occurred.
Speaking at a press conference Sunday afternoon, Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan refuted claims that protestors were not given a chance to avoid arrest.
“There were multiple dispersal orders given with directions on where to leave, and some people chose to leave, others didn’t,” Jordan said. “And at that point my on-scene commander made the decision to arrest those people that did not want to leave.”
The chief said OPD’s tactics have not changed, but that Occupy’s had, which necessitated a different response than at past events.
“These marches have become more aggressive, more confrontational, more direct action of violence towards police, (and) towards buildings,” said Jordan, speaking not only of Saturday’s demonstration, but the weekly “F—K the Police” march that’s been taking place every Saturday night since late last year.
“It became clear that the objective of this crowd was not to peacefully assemble and march, but to seek an opportunity to further criminal acts, confront police and continue to illegally attempt to occupy buildings.”
Who called the shots and which police agencies engaged in what actions on Saturday will no doubt be hotly debated in coming weeks, as will the legality of police dispersal orders. With Oakland’s police department facing a possible federal takeover, its crowd-control tactics are already front and center. And Occupy Oakland’s public image is also at stake.
On Sunday, when members of Occupy Oakland gathered in the amphitheatre to discuss the protest, most expressed praise for demonstrators’ fearlessness and resiliency in refusing to go home after being tear-gassed numerous times.
“The world was paying attention,” said Caitlin Manning. “(They’ve) seen Occupy Oakland again. People know that we haven’t just disappeared, because we lost our camp.”
Others, however, were concerned that actions like breaking into City Hall and destroying property will be used to discredit the movement. Osha Neumann, who works at a free legal clinic for low-income people, said protesters’ actions could be alienating the many of the 99% who were more sympathetic to Occupy weeks or months ago.
“To rage in the streets and fight the police, and feel the thrill of that, of fighting back, of eliminating fear, it’s an enormously important part of the movement,” said Neumann. “But I also have to say that when I saw Jean Quan giving her press conference, she seemed thrilled, I’ve never seen her so happy. It was almost like, when she was able to say ‘well they destroyed the children’s art exhibit, and they overthrow the old thing, it was like, oh finally, I’ve been legitimized, my approach to this movement.’ That’s a problem for us! It’s a real problem.”
Sunday morning, Quan gave some members of the media a tour of the damage at city hall. (Watch a video of that here.) City Administrator Deanna said demonstrators broke an interior window and light fixtures, damaged historic models of city hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza, and broke into a fire sprinkler and elevator operating box. Santana said that City Hall would be open for business as usual on Monday.