What Really Happened at Occupy Oakland on Jan. 28

by The North Star on January 30, 2012

For the internet, here’s a first-hand account of Occupy Oakland on Jan. 28, 2012, because the news never tells the full story. I’ll tell you about the street battle, the 300+ arrests, the vandalism, the flag burning, all in the context of my experience today. This is deeper than the headlines. No major news source can do that for you.

The stated goal for the day was to “move-in” to a large, abandoned, building to turn it into a social and political center. It is a long vacant convention center –- the only people ever near there are the homeless who use the space outside the building as a bed. The building occupation also draws attention to the large number of abandoned and unused buildings in Oakland.

The day started with a rally and a march to the proposed building. The police knew which building was the target, surrounded it, and used highly mobile units to try and divert the protest. After avoiding police lines, the group made it to one side of the building. Now, this is a very large building, and we were on a road with construction fences on both sides, and a large ditch separating us from the cops. The police fired smoke grenades into the crowd as the group neared a small path around the ditch, towards the building. They declared an unlawful assembly, and this is when the crowd broke down the construction fence. A few people broke fences to escape the situation, others because they were pissed. A couple more fences were taken down then necessary, but no valuable equipment was destroyed. They only things broken were fences.

The crowd decided to continue moving, and walked up the block to a more regular street. We decided to turn left up the street, and a police line formed to stop the march. They again declared an unlawful assembly. The protesters challenged the line, marching towards the police with our own shields in front. The shields, some small and black and a few large metal sheets. The police fired teargas as the group approached, and shot less-than-lethal rounds at the crowd. The protesters returned one volley of firecrackers, small projectiles, and funny things like balloons. A very weak attack, three officers may have been hit by something but none of them got injured. Tear gas forced many people back. The protesters quickly regrouped, and pressed the line again. This time the police opened fire with flash-grenades, tear gas, paint-filled beanbag shotguns, and rubber bullets.

After the police fired heavily on the protesters, they pushed their line forward and made a few arrests. The protesters regrouped down the block and began to march the other way (followed by police), back to Oscar Grant Plaza.

All of this occurred during the day, but it was that street battle that set the tone for the police response later in the evening. After taking a break in Oscar Grant Plaza, feeding everyone and resting, the group headed out for their evening march. Around 5 p.m., the group took to the street at 14th and Broadway and began a First-Amendment sanctioned march around the city. The police response was very aggressive.

About 15 minutes into the march, the police attempted to kettle the protesters. This march was entirely non-violent; nobody threw shit at the cops and an unlawful assembly was never declared. This is a very important detail. The march was 1,000+ strong, conservatively. The police were very mobile, using 25+ rented 10-seater vans to bring the ‘troops’ to the march.

For their first attempt at a kettle, the cops charged the group with police lines from the front and back. They ran towards us aggressively. Us being 1,000+ peaceful marching protesters. The group was forced to move up a side street. The police moved quickly to surround the entire area; they formed a line on every street that the side street connected to. Police state status: very efficient. They kettled almost the entire protest in the park near the Fox theater. AFTERWARDS, as in after they surrounded everyone, they declared it to be an unlawful assembly BUT OFFERED NO EXIT ROUTE. Gas was used, could of been tear or smoke gas.

The crowd then broke down a fence that was on one side of the kettle, and 1,000 people ran across a field escaping a police kettle and embarrassing the entire police force. It was literally a massive jailbreak from a kettle. The group retook Telegraph ave. and left the police way behind.

At this point, I was on edge because I knew the police were not fucking around tonight. Because of the incident earlier in the day, I realized they were effectively treating the peaceful march as a riot. There was not rioting, or intentions to riot, just dancing, optimism, hope, and walking. But clearly the police thought differently, and I knew they would try to trap us again without warning. From the moment I saw riot police running towards are march from both directions, I knew the Constitution would not apply in Oakland tonight. The police made that very clear. My friends thought differently, thinking that they would not be arrested for marching. They are currently in jail.

The second, and successful, kettle occurred as the protest was headed back up Broadway, at Broadway and 24th. Again, the police appeared quickly in front of the crowd, as well as a line behind the crowd. This time there was no side street. A few people attempted to escape into the YMCA; some misinfonformed news reports claim that the YMCA got ‘occupied’. Around 300 people were trapped, mostly young people. At this point I had fallen behind the line of riot police in back of the crowd, and when the kettle was sprung I was on the other side of the police line. I have a policy of avoiding arrest, but I feel like I’ve been striped of some dignity. I’ve seen some shit go down in Oaktown, but I’ve always avoided arrest because it was easy. Most mass arrests occur when people choose to break the law (like occupying Bank of America in downtown San Francisco and pitching a tent to send a statement to UC Regent Monica Lozano on BofA’s board – respect). At “unlawful assemblies,” people are usually extracted by a quick attack of 5+ cops on their “targets” (previously identified and profiled protesters). If the crowd is too large, they use teargas.

Tonight was different. When I fell behind the group, I knew they were going to arrest a very large number of peaceful protesters without declaring an unlawful assembly at the location. And then they did. I thought this shit was reserved for G20s and World Trade Organization meetings. I felt shame for being intimidated away from my rights. “Unlawful assemblies” feel like a boot stomp on the first amendment, but this was like them wiping their ass with the constitution and force feeding it to me.

300+ were arrested, corralled below the YMCA at 23rd and Broadway. The only announcement that was made was one I’ve never heard before:

“You are under arrest. Submit to your arrest.”

The 300 protesters were then arrested, one by one. They were zip-tied and sat in rows while they waited to be processed. The Oakland Police Department set up an entire processing station behind police lines, where they searched and identified every protester. They were slowly loaded onto buses, including local public AC transit buses. This took about 4 or 5 hours.

Outside the police lines, things were still happening. A group that escaped the trap decided to head back to Oscar Grant Plaza. I do not know how, but they opened the front door to city hall and occupied the building. Opened, as in no window smashing. The move was not meant to be an occupation but more of a show of solidarity to the 300 arrested protesters down the street. When all the people being arrested heard the news, they let out a big cheer.

At this point I ran to Oscar Grant Plaza. When I arrived there were only eight riot cops guarding the open front door, but more arrived very quickly. No one was inside the building anymore, but many had gathered in the Plaza. Someone burned an American Flag in front of City Hall. I’ve seen the same guy do it before; frankly he’s weird and it’s kind of his thing. One thing to note is the police arrested to wrong part of the protest. Most people arrested were young peaceful types. Aggressive protesters, and anyone with a record, are usually very good at avoiding arrest. Point being, back at the plaza opportunists began their work. I saw some young “jugalos” spray-painting a wall with “jugalos for life” shit and then take photos next to it. They were just young and stupid kids; some good protesters cleaned it up later in the night. Some CBS and FOX news crews forced to leave the scene, with people spanking their van. They had already gotten the footage of someone burning an American flag in front of City Hall, so their work was done. The crowd was angry about what happened, and milling around the plaza and downtown area. At one point, the first of the 9 busloads of protesters drove past 14th and Broadway. People cheered for the ones inside, and chased it down, slamming on the sides of the bus. None of the other buses came past the plaza. There is about 30 police in the immediate area, 20 in front of city hall, and 10 near 14th and Broadway. Clearly they were stretched thin and did not expect the City Hall incident. Mutual aid been called it; I saw cops from Oakland, Alameda County Sheriff, Pleasanton, and Berkeley.

I walked back down to the 300 arrests in progress to try and get some information or spot my friends, but all I could do was wait and watch from behind the police line. My phone died. Not much happened, a lot of waiting and talking with people who also had friends on the other side. People included one French women who talked about how in France this would never be tolerated, and a teacher of one of Oakland’s 10 schools being closed who was out on his birthday “for the kids.” Eventually, I decided I needed to charge my phone, get on the internet, and figure out where and when my friends will be released. Siting down on BART was great after a long day of walking.

I got home and viewed OakfoSho and PunkboyinSF on Ustream to stay posted. OakFoSho filmed the entire arrest from above, I was able to look for my friends from his stream. All props to that guy. I saw that with the new development at Oscar Grant Plaza, they had to call in mutual aid from San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo. They declared the 14th and Broadway an unlawful assembly and slowly dispersed the dwindling crowd. No tear gas this time!

Now that this incident is on-record, I’m gonna get a little sleep, then go pick up my friends from jail.

If you only remember one detail be it this: Tonight’s mass arrest occurred without a dispersal order. No law was broken. The only order given was: “You are under arrest. Submit to your arrest.” 300 peaceful protesters walking down a street were trapped and arrested unlawfully.

A note about police militarization: I saw some big guns and scary gear tonight. Alameda County Sheriff seems to have an endless budget for that shit. But tonight I saw something much scarier, that I’ve never seen before. First, I saw that the police have a printed profile books of protesters. I saw a cop flipping through pictures with descriptions, talking about who on their list they’ve seen today. When resting in Oscar Grant Plaza, a cop was filming the plaza from a rooftop in an adjacent building. They’re always filming, some have cameras on their bodies now, but this was clear spying and sophisticated intelligence gathering and analysis. Second, a very large tank on wheels, with a water cannon on top, rolled on scene. Someone said it was called a “grizzly”, but I can’t find a photo anywhere. Help? It was massive, and I stood right next to it before they brought it behind police lines. It was a hardcore, modern urban tank. The police are funded and prepared to use a water cannon on protesters, if need be. Know that.

The thing about Occupy, and especially Occupy Oakland, is it refuses to exclude. We are the 99%, and we mean it. The homeless and disenfranchised were welcome in the camp from day 1. The crime rate in Downtown Oakland went down, and some people finally had a safe place to sleep. Idealistic youth, Google techies, students, teachers, parents, children, poor, homeless, workers, all coming together. It rekindled hope for a lot of people. Occupy changed the conversation. The idea is more important than any one protest. An idea cannot be stopped. It is no longer about occupations; instead, it’s about bringing people together. The 99%, all with their own problems and concerns, have brought their collective attention to the root of the forces preventing them from making a better world.

A lot of the people arrested today were my peers — a lot of young people and students. For us, the Occupy movement can’t be diminished or co-opted — it’s bigger than Occupy. I will seek the changes I marched for tonight until I win or die. It is the task of my generation, worldwide, to return power to the people. Governments around the world are quickly realizing that our generation will not back down. This is bigger than ‘occupy’, this is bigger than one country, one problem, or one protest. The people want their world back. We are fighting for our future, and we are winning..

Edit: Forgot to add this context – The Oakland Police Department will soon be taken over by the Feds because of their poor conduct and inability to change: http://www.baycitizen.org/policing/story/judge-strips-power-oakland-police/

Originally posted here: http://redd.it/p1m34

  • elkojohn

    ''There's no honor in hurting unarmed civilians.''
    US Marine Corps Sgt. Shamar Thomas to the NYPD, Oct.2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmEHcOc0Sys

  • Jane Vandenburgh

    thanks for this thorough account, so important the the word gets out on what really happened

  • Andy

    Thanks for this. I was very upset by the media reports and the talk of Anarchists taking over the occupy movement. You point of view shows an entirely different set of events. The guying burning the American flag needs to go tho… thats just stupid and undermines the entire movement.

  • http://laughingfish.blogspot.com Laughing Fish

    Thanks for sharing that. It made me think about two things.

    First:

    If you're going to try to occupy another building, you can't just show up with a big crowd on a pre-selected target and take it over. I think. The cops are going to want to stop you and they are probably going to be able to.

    You might be better off being very very discreet, with people innocuously and slowly entering a building a few at a time, preferably through an exit that is difficult to notice from outside, and which could then be barricaded. Make sure of course it is a worthwhile location because otherwise you just basically imprisoned yourself (for what publicity gain?)

    Second question, maybe, what was the point of occupying that structure? What could you have done there that you couldn't have done camping out in a friends' yard or in a cheap donated or rented space? What was that one target so worth arrest?

    Now the second thing:

    So you were in a crowd, and people in the crowd threw "firecrackers, small projectiles, and funny things" at the police, and after that you are upset that the police arrested your friends? That makes it very difficult for me to have much sympathy for anyone arrested. Try throwing anything, even if it is harmless and "funny" at any cop on the street. They are going to be pissed at you, and arrest you. In a protest the bar is even higher, and they will arrest you with any tiny excuse. That's exactly the kind of boneheaded provocation that has been self destructing protests for the past decade under the innocuously inclusive slogan of "diversity of tactics".

    Do you want to know what a real non violent protest is like? Go look at the early civil rights movement. Do you see anyone burning flags, or throwing things at the police? No, you don't. That's because black people and civil rights activists were being murdered at the time for doing nothing illegal wrong at all. So everyone was really interested on not giving the cops any excuse. The leaders were also smart, and knew that the racist press would really easily demonize their movement as "violent, unruly negroes", if they fed into any provocation. They had meetings in churches in the days before the protest where everyone got on board with the idea of not feeding into provocation.

    The "99%" slogan is in a way helpful, as a slogan, but you have to be smarter than it when you start thinking about tactics. You've got to figure out a way to not let provocateurs (well meaning protesters or spies, the motivational difference is irrelevant as the effect is the same) fuck up your image.

    If you have a free speech fight, you've got to figure out how to communicate your message without doing anything illegal. That way the cops look really bad in the press, and can loose in court, when they repress you, which of course they will try to do anyway. Once you stop thinking like that, and you just feed into their provocations, you will loose public support, and if you are loosing public support, none of your free speech rights or the correctness of your cause will matter because the people you are trying to reach with your message are going to write you off.

  • Karl Friedrich

    The previous commentor raises an excellent point. I was around 10 years old marching with my parents in mass street demos of almost a million during the Vietnam War and there were no arrests precisely because there were no senseless provocations. It helped of course that there were organized demonstration marshalls. I urge the anarchist minded & other youth whom I respect to garner some discipline in their ranks lest their energies be squandered & the Movement needlessly thwarted.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Binh

    To respond to Laughing Fish:
    "If you're going to try to occupy another building, you can't just show up with a big crowd on a pre-selected target and take it over. I think. The cops are going to want to stop you and they are probably going to be able to. You might be better off being very very discreet, with people innocuously and slowly entering a building a few at a time, preferably through an exit that is difficult to notice from outside, and which could then be barricaded. Make sure of course it is a worthwhile location because otherwise you just basically imprisoned yourself (for what publicity gain?)"

    Yes and no. The problem in Oakland is that the cops were waiting for them at the "secret location," so the information was not handled carefully or properly. In Brooklyn we had a mass action to take over a home at 702 Vermont Ave: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URoSs20ImZQ (footage of the takeover event is at 3:06)

    This event was publicly advertised and built. People were instructed to show up to a location near the site but the address was *not* given out prior. So when hundreds of people showed up they were led by the handful (or less, I don't know) who had the address to the site. There were no cops waiting for them. Plus I think the family and some activists snuck into the building shortly before the demonstrators showed up, so they combined both elements of what you are talking about.

    I suspect the problem in Oakland with the action was twofold: 1) the cops knew and were waiting for them and 2) There simply were not enough people to truly seize and hold the property in question. Numbers became decisive since cops were on the scene. Since November 2011 the turnouts at Occupy actions have collapsed; even the December port blockades only involved a few thousand people at a particular site at most. The "violence" of a handful of protestors combined with the crackdown from above is alienating a lot of people and making them think twice about showing up at an event out of fear for their personal safety, opposition to throwing empty water bottles and such at cops, or both.

    As the repression ramps up and people's friends are brutalized/arrested we are going to continue to have problems with people on marches acting on their justified anger towards the police in counterproductive ways. This is both a learning process for the activists in question and an issue where other people on the march might need to take direct action to block or stop people from throwing stuff at cops, etc. This happened in Oakland back in Nov. when fistfights broke out with the Black Bloc when they started vandalizing Whole Foods for example.

  • david

    A few things.

    If you are serious and want to mobilize the *community* and not just ourselves (activists) leaving the provocative 'black bloc' clothing at home. Once the masks go on, all bets are off and it looks like you are looking for trouble. Do people evicted from their homes wear black clothing? No. Do workers on strike? Nope. Neither should you unless you are into a kind of incestuous political counter-culture. Just kidding but we need to swim as fish in the sea and as outsiders simply 'acting the deed'.

    Let everyone know there is going to be an occupation (not a problem on the 27th I think) but the bigger issue is *who* is doing the occupying. If it's settled into what is in effect the professional full time cadre of activists generated by the Occupy movement, it is a problem. It's looking inward for support and strength, instead of the broader working class we are supposed to be 'moving' with in these actions. If the orientation is toward bigger and bolder actions with the greatest, not smallest number involved, then Occupy won't go anywhere. That's substituting ourselves FOR the masses. Only the masses can free themselves not activists dedicated to do it.

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