A report from yesterday’s protests

We’ve discussed yesterday’s peaceful protest on behalf of Occupy Oakland, and the violent police response that dispersed that protest, but I want to quote at length from zunguzungu’s excellent report:

You might find it a bit confusing trying to keep track of the different times the Oakland Police department used tear gas on peaceful protesters yesterday. In the morning, they raided the Occupy Oakland camp and destroyed everything the occupiers had built, as I wrote about yesterday (and you can see video of that here).

But then, in the afternoon, this march gathered at the Oakland public library at 4 and proceeded to march back towards Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza. In response, OPD declared the protest to be an unlawful assembly, gave us 5 minutes to disperse, and then attacked the crowd with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets. I was there until that point, and I can testify that it was a peaceful march until the police attacked it.

If you read an account of the march like this one – or listen to the Oakland Police Chief here — you will get the impression that the crowd was the aggressor (“Occupy Oakland demonstrators clashed…with police” and that “The demonstrators sparred”) and that ”[OPD] had to deploy gas in order to stop the crowd and people from pelting us with bottles and rocks and…chemical agents that were thrown at the officers.” It’s very hard to see everything that is happening in a huge crowd like that, so the Oakland police chief may well be telling the truth when he says that his officers were “pelted by paint and a chemical irritant” But whether or not his officers were hit with paint — and even if that justifies what happened next — it has nothing to do with how or why the OPD (and officers from every police department in the area) first used the kind of force they did, when they did.

Let’s pause to emphasize this. There was undoubtedly violence as the protests and police response unrolled over several hours, but all reports are consistent in making clear that the police instigated the violence before any protesters did anything. I’d argue that a massive teargas attack that stranded people in wheelchairs and engulfed nonviolent protesters (including children) fleeing the scene is, in any event, a grossly disproportionate response to isolated violence from a peaceful protest.

When a thousand people marched first from the library to the detention facility at 7th and Washington (where the 70 or so occupiers that were arrested that morning were being held), we were met with tear gas for the first time. Then, when we turned back towards Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, we were again hit with tear gas at the intersection of Broadway and 14th.

If you look at these pictures I posted yesterday, you’re seeing the crowd. The first and second were taken before the first round of tear gas, and the third and fourth pictures were taken only one block from Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant plaza, where the police announced on a bullhorn that it was an unlawful assembly, they would use gas to disperse us, and that we would be subject to injury if we stayed. They said this very clearly — and I saw the front line very clearly at this point — well before the crowd had done anything but take over the intersection. And then the police did exactly what they said they would do. They were not reacting to anything other than the presence of a very large and angry crowd of protesters, who were at that point simply present. They said that if the crowd did not disperse, they would use force to disperse it, and they made good on their promise.

At that point… The crowd left 14th and Broadway and began marching to Snow Park (whose occupation had also been raided by the police that morning); … At Snow Park, it seems, the general assembly decided to return to Oscar Grant plaza and then they did. But this video accurately represents exactly what happened from my perspective up until that point: the police warned an otherwise peaceful demonstration that it was illegal, and they would use “chemical agents” to make them disperse.

Most of the most violent footage you will see comes from after this point; things got so much worse after I left, that the very mild tear gassing the first two times are not worth reporting on very much. This sort of thing went on for hours

But the most important point, I think, is this: when we left the Oakland Public Library, the last speaker’s last words (after making as clear as possible to the crowd that we were marching to liberate Oscar Grant plaza from massed riot cops, and telling people who couldn’t be down for that to stay at the library) were something along the lines of “No matter what happens, this is only the beginning of a long struggle.” At the time, I was worried. He said that after this march, we should meet at 14th and Broadway every day at six p.m., from now on, and take “whatever space we can.” But before the police tear gassed a non-violent protest, I was not confident that this thing would continue, was worried that today would be not the beginning but the ending. It didn’t seem like much of a strategy, and without the camp to give the movement a center, well, I was worried. “Whatever space we can” is not likely to be much. But now, who knows? I’m ready to occupy some space. So I’ll see you at 14th and Broadway, today at six.

Follow zunguzungu on twitter today for more of this great coverage, as well as the excellent livetweets from Mother Jones reporter garonsen, Oakland North, the Ella Baker Center, and me. Or join us at 14th and Broadway today at 6.


  1. #1 PatK
    October 26, 2011

    When this happened in Chicago in 1968, it wound up being described as a police riot.

    I’d like to say it was unbelievable that, 43 years later, the same scenario is playing out again.

    Unfortunately, it is not.

  2. #2 NC
    October 27, 2011

    To whom it may concern. A climate scientist, “peer reviewed and published in the finest journals “* using the name Skip on “scienceblogs” has, since I was banned from other “scienceblogs” sites has commented on mine in a fact free, ad hom filled manner. Having given him repeated opportunities to discuss facts (& lets be fair given him endless opportunities to show publicly the behaviour to be expected of climate “scientists” I have eventually said I will bar comments consisting of ad homs.

    In a display of the state of mind of climate “scientists” he has said that such censorship probes me a Nazi (in an equal display of the level of integrity of such “scientists” he actively does not describe all the other “sciencebloggers” as “Nazis” though they censor purely for producing inconvenient facts.

    He now promises to pursue me to any blog I comment on – though it is likely the only one he knows is “scienceblogs”. In one sense I, of course, welcome any such person willing to repeatedly and publicly demonstrate what is, if not the pinnacle of honesty to which any climate “scientist” ever aspires, certainly a degree of obscenity and dishonesty to which not a single one of them ever in any way demurs.

    Thus should any “scienceblogger” ever decide they will relax their policy of total censorship of anybody who politely counters their claims with factts will find Skip on there calling me a “Nazi” for censoring only ad homs and obscenities. The irony of this will presumably be wholly lost on all those “sciencebloggers” censoring to promte thwe cattastrophic warming fraud.

    I, of course, will and need say nothing rude about him or any climate “scientist” and certainly will not suggest they are all Nazis – with such as him around there seems no need.

    *While we have all met people on blogs who claim obviously false credentials he went to some lengths to prove he was such, including naming several others who could vouch for him, none of whom demurred, so I am forced to accept his credentials though the idea of a “scientist” depending on ad homs and obscenities and abjuring facts is counterintuitive

  3. #3 abb3w
    October 31, 2011

    From the accounts I’ve read, this sounds like marginal improvement over Chicago 1968 from both sides of the (metaphorical) barricades. Not a lot of improvement, though; perhaps about that consistent with what I’d expect from the trends Pinker’s new book hypothesizes, given 40 years and the trend rate of progress.

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