This hits home for me. I live in Northern California, my husband's office is a few blocks from Ogawa Plaza park and he could see the helicopters circling overhead as he left for home last night. Oakland, politically and law enforcement-wise is in disarray. Is it surprising that the mayor of Oakland (an office previously held by our current governor, Jerry Brown) is the subject of a recall campaign? In an effort to appear tough on crime, Mayor Quan asked for the resignation of the Police Chief just ten days ago, claiming that he was unable to be an effective head of law enforcement, a charge that he retorted was exactly the kind of hostile environment that made it impossible to be the head of law enforcement in an incredibly diverse city, with a huge range of socio-economic levels living side by side.
So in that super-charged atmosphere, the call came down to tear down the encampments of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, invoking public health as the reasoning. In fairness, there were a fair amount of homeless people joining the protesters and allegations of rats, lice and bedbugs. But there was almost no reports of violence (other than a couple of petty thefts). So the disproportionate response by the police is disconcerting to say the least.
As two activists who have called Oakland home, we are appalled at the events of our city in the last 36 hours. Last night the country joined us to watch in anguish as the Oakland Police Department, with back up from a dozen law enforcement agencies from around the region, used excessive levels of force against hundreds of mostly peaceful Occupy Oakland protesters. In a city with a long and painful record of police violence, it is especially disturbing to witness scenes of women, children, the elderly, and the disabled under assault by rubber bullets and tear gas.
This kind of crackdown is bad for our democracy, and it's bad for public safety. Mayors and police chiefs at Occupy sites across the country should take note: this is the wrong way to respond to the Occupy movement.
On Sam Seder's radio show, The Majority Report, an Occupy Oakland protester called in and described her arrest to Sam. This is not the way to respond to the Occupy movement:
ALYSSA: What they did was they like, like, I don’t know how many of them, but probably more police than there were of us. Significantly more. Came from both directions, at the park, like they surrounded us. And the first thing they did, they gave us a warning. They said it was like five minutes but it didn’t even seem like they gave us that long. And we were saying, you know, we had talked about it. It was going to be non-violent. You know, people were singing and chanting, saying that we were fighting for their attention. I even had these…like I made copies of these Albany [police] refusing to take these orders, that they didn’t have to take unlawful orders. But they came up and the first thing they did, gave us five minutes and then they threw tear gas. You know, I don’t know if they threw one or two of those tear gas bombs. And then they—I’m not sure if they shot those [rubber] bullets, they were like these long things. We ran over to the other side. And when we were at the other side, there was this another line of police. And they again gave us a quick warning and before they just started coming in. Everybody…we had barricaded the area, put up a blockade you know, to slow down the police from entering. So they came in and was just throwing stuff down and um…
SEDER: Let me stop you here for a minute. Are you saying the police…they gave you a warning, they said clear the park or you’ll be arrested and before they even attempted to arrest people, they started lobbing tear gas?
ALYSSA: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, they didn’t even ask us. You know, to go willingly. They just threw tear gas. Yeah, they didn’t say would you come, nothing like that. And it didn’t seem like they gave us the full five minutes. You know, it just seemed like they came, they wanted to just storm the camp, basically. As if we were at war, you know, terrorizing a village. It was just really bad. I was surprised at the extent of brutality they showed. Unnecessary. So they threw in the tear gas, we ran over to the other side. And we locked arms again and we’re chanting, peacefully. And this side of the police, they started to throw the blockade stuff over. And they came in, and as they approached, I felt somebody grab me from behind. He didn’t even say would you come, he just grabbed me. A police officer grabbed me from behind. I had my bag, because I have multiple sclerosis, so I had my medicine and even my I.D., everything was in my bag. But he just threw it and grabbed me forcefully. And I was like I need my bag, I have MS, my medicine’s in it. But he was like too bad and I kept on saying I needed it and it was only because of that that another police officer gave it to me. He wasn’t going to. But he handcuffed me. Yeah, I know. He handcuffed me. Luckily my handcuffs weren’t that tight. You know, some people’s were really extremely tight. They left them on for like five hours. Almost the whole time we were in…the whole time we were in the holding cell. So they marched me down.
Oh, when they came in from behind, they were also…for the people who were still in the tents, they were literally kicking them, like they were playing soccer. Like just kicking the people, the tents with people in them. Like you know, two police officers. It was just terrible.
SEDER: Did they approach the tents and say you gotta get out of the tents or did they just go up and start kicking them?
ALYSSA: No. They just started kicking them. Kicking everything down. Like they just destroyed everything as they came in. As they approached the people that came in, the police that came in from behind, they just came in destroying stuff.
SEDER: So this is a real…
ALYSSA: These are the same police officers…[..] that we were being friendly with. As friendly as possible on the marches and you know, stuff like that. It was really…I don’t know, I thought that I knew the Oakland police can violent and don’t, you know, exactly protect the people they’re supposed to. But I was still surprised; it was still shocking how far it went.
It went so far that the cops actually refused to give Alyssa her MS medication while she was in jail.
Nope, this was definitely not the way to deal with the Occupy protest.