Occupy, Oakland blame each other for violence

Demian Bulwa and Justin Berton
SF Chronicle – Monday, January 30, 2012

Oakland officials and Occupy protesters confronted the fallout from their increasingly toxic conflict on Sunday, a day after the tensions reignited in chaotic, often violent demonstrations that resulted in at least 400 arrests. Once again, each side blamed the other for sparking the violence.

City officials took stock of the damage from Saturday’s clashes, which included injuries to three police officers and several protesters, as well as vandalism inside City Hall.

There, dozens of protesters had broken in with a crowbar, grabbed an American flag, and ignited it on the front steps.

“It’s like a tantrum,” Mayor Jean Quan said while showing the damage inside the building, which included a broken model of City Hall she estimated to be 100 years old. “They’re treating us like a playground.”

Quan said Occupy Oakland had “refused to be nonviolent” and, as a result, was “turning off the rest of the movement.” She said police would step up efforts to obtain restraining orders against some protesters to keep them from approaching City Hall.

Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan, at an afternoon news conference, said 14 outside police agencies had provided mutual aid to Oakland. He did not know the exact number of people arrested.

Outside City Hall on Sunday, some activists who had gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza condemned the officers who responded aggressively Saturday to stop Occupy Oakland from seizing the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and turning it into a headquarters for the movement.

They accused officers of using batons, beanbag bullets and tear gas without justification.

“Whatever qualms people have with Occupy Oakland, it’s the police who have committed the most egregious violence,” said Scott Johnson, a 34-year-old Oakland resident. “They instigated the violence by not allowing us to take over an unused building.”

Future action

Later Sunday, at a “general assembly” in Ogawa Plaza, a few hundred people discussed a variety of proposals for future action, including a call for a general strike on May 1.

But the disorganized nature of Saturday’s demonstration, and the hours-long street skirmishes that were broadcast on television and the Internet, left some protesters with mixed feelings.

Some said the building takeover was poorly planned and that they did not condone the actions of those who vandalized City Hall or threw rocks and other objects at police.

“Today we need to clean up again,” said Rachel Dorney, 23, who said she was pushed to the ground by a police officer during the rally. “I know that people are pissed at the cops and that’s how they act out, but it just hurts Oakland.”

Others said the movement in Oakland has strayed too far from the core message of economic justice.

Officer Johnna Watson, a police spokeswoman, said the officer who suffered the most serious injuries was struck in the face by a bicycle, suffering a cut. A second officer was cut on the hand, she said, and a third had a bruise.

She said some of the arrested protesters were released after being processed through County Jail, while others – including those suspected of felony assault – would be held until they post bail.

Jordan said at least three journalists were temporarily detained Saturday, including Gavin Aronsen, an editorial fellow at Mother Jones, who was taken to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before being released.

Watson displayed items she said were recovered from protesters, including knives, mace, scissors and a tear gas canister, as well as a large shield that protesters had used while clashing with police.

The shield was 7 feet wide and 4 feet tall, with corrugated metal siding over a wood frame. Seven metal handles were bolted to the frame, and the words “Commune move in” were painted in red and black.

‘New territory’

“They’re well-built, they’re maneuverable and they’re effective,” Watson said of the shields. “We have to change our police strategies. This is new territory for law enforcement.”

Watson said her department needs its officers to return to their regular duties. Oakland has had five homicides since Friday night.

The police focus on Occupy activists was a cause of concern for Isaac Kaly, who said his Oakland church, Kingdom Life International Ministries, had been broken into late Saturday or early Sunday by burglars. Kaly, an assistant pastor, said church officials called police at 9:45 a.m. Sunday but were told that officers were too busy to respond.

“They said they would come out (Monday) to take a report,” Kaly said. “Everybody deserves service. That’s why we pay the police.”

Saturday’s demonstration, which brought more than 1,000 people downtown, began on a festive note. After a brief noon rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza, Occupy supporters, accompanied by a small marching band, filled the street with banners.

Jordan said he did not consider the rally to be peaceful, however, because of marchers’ plan to seize a building and because some of the protesters slashed tires as they walked.

Secret destination

Most marchers had no idea where they were going, because organizers kept secret the building they hoped to seize. Tensions rose as marchers arrived at the long-shuttered convention center just south of Lake Merritt and began tearing down fences.

Police ordered marchers to disperse after someone in the crowd threw what appeared to be a smoke bomb at the officers. The protesters refused, touching off the first of several confrontations.

Police pushed the crowd back down 12th Street toward downtown, and eventually the demonstrators ended up where they had begun – back at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Their numbers smaller than before, the marchers set out from the plaza a second time after dark, heading north. Again it was unclear where the group was headed.

At one point, around 6:30 p.m., police cornered marchers near the YMCA at 24th Street and Broadway, and some of the protesters burst into the building, surprising people working out in the gym.

Nineteen people were arrested earlier in the day. Jordan said 44 people were arrested inside the YMCA, with scores more taken into custody outside.

Police said the mass arrests were necessary because protesters failed to obey orders to disperse. But some protesters said the arrests were made unlawfully, before they had a chance to follow police orders, and suggested that they might take legal action against the city.

Boulder Creek Collective worker says pot gave him his life back

Rosy Weiser
SC Sentinel:   01/28/2012

SOQUEL – Boulder Creek Collective founder Marc Whitehill, a former nurse, has seen a lot of people come through his doors seeking medical marijuana, enough that he thinks he has a pretty clear idea of the patient demographic at most local dispensaries.

He estimates 60 percent are 40 or older and use cannabis “to avoid taking much harsher pharmaceutical alternatives to treat nausea, sleeplessness, anxiety and aches and pains,” he said. They use the medicine instead of resorting to common prescription painkillers and tranquilizers.

Another 20 percent are youngsters with no visible signs of illness.

“With them, I have to trust the physician that they made the right call,” he said.

But the last category, the 20 percent who are chronically or terminally ill receive special attention at the Boulder Creek Collective. If not for these patients, medical cannabis might not have grown into a burgeoning industry.

One such patient is Gary Goldsworthy, 42, who was given a free membership at the collective in exchange for volunteer hours about two years ago. Goldsworthy was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder that triggers the immune system to attack the gastro-intestinal tract, when he was 27.

During a long period of remission, Goldsworthy had been a successful musician who toured nationally with acclaimed blues artist, James Armstrong. But an additional diagnosis of skin cancer and the removal of several lymph nodes a few years ago caused a resurgence of the Crohn’s and sent him downhill fast.

When he first discovered marijuana as medicine, he had been housebound for more than a year, confined to his bed and the bathroom, hardly able to eat and suffering from diarrhea and intense abdominal pain, among other symptoms.

“I kept on getting advised by nurses to try [marijuana] because I don’t get a natural appetite,” he said, explaining that smoking has allowed him to regain some semblance of his former life, bringing him out of the house and allowing him to eat regularly and have more energy.

Against the advice of his doctors, Goldsworthy eventually decided to forgo the mainstream treatments that cost $50,000 a year, in favor of marijuana which he got for free, and which he thought did a better job addressing his symptoms.

“My symptoms are semi-manageable now,” he said. “I was on disability and SSI but I’ve been able to be self-sufficient.”

Goldsworthy now works as a part-time paid employee at the collective handling admissions. He continues to receive enough free medicine to smoke three to four times a day, around meal times.

Occupy Oakland activists rally for former pariah

Demian Bulwa, SF Chronicle – Monday, January 9, 2012

Occupy Oakland protesters are rallying behind Marcel "Khali" Johnson, a mentally ill man who was arrested during a demonstration outside City Hall last month. Photo: Courtesy Adam Katz / SF

Occupy Oakland protesters are rallying behind Marcel “Khali” Johnson, a mentally ill man who was arrested during a demonstration outside City Hall last month. Photo: Courtesy Adam Katz / SF

PLEASANTON– One obstacle Occupy Oakland faced after building a City Hall encampment came not from authorities but from within – a mentally ill homeless man with a long prison record who witnesses said beat fellow campers in fits of rage. Some were so frightened they moved out.

No one called the police on the man, who called himself “Kali.” Instead, he was banished in an act of freelance justice, with a protester knocking him unconscious with a two-by-four Oct. 18. Police cleared the tent city a week later, and Mayor Jean Quan has cited the incident as a motivating factor.

Times have changed. On Monday, dozens of Occupy Oakland protesters went to a courthouse in Pleasanton to rail against prosecutors for filing assault charges against Marcel “Kali” Johnson, 38. Some said they forgave him and have come to see him as a good man who needs support, not more prison time.

“That’s the beauty of Occupy,” said Laleh Behbehanian, a UC Berkeley graduate student trying to help Johnson. She spoke after telling activists how they can visit him, in groups of four, at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

Improved behavior

Johnson returned to Frank Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall a couple of weeks after being knocked unconscious, witnesses said, and did better this time, helping out before police swept through the camp a second time Nov. 14.

Johnson was one of several demonstrators arrested on minor charges there Dec. 16, as Occupy Oakland sought to maintain a 24-hour-a-day vigil. The next day, at Santa Rita Jail, Johnson was accused of assaulting an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy.

According to an affidavit by the arresting officer, Deputy Clifford Malihan, Johnson struggled as a second deputy, referred to as W. Chase, tried to handcuff him and move him between housing units.

Malihan wrote that Johnson first tried to strike Chase in the head, then got behind him and wrapped his arms around him. Malihan said he performed a leg sweep, causing Chase and Johnson to fall, and punched Johnson repeatedly.

Malihan said Chase suffered cuts, bruises and neck pain, while a third deputy suffered a minor concussion from an inadvertent baton strike.

Not-guilty plea

Johnson pleaded not guilty Monday and is scheduled to return to court Feb. 6. Alameda County prosecutors say he has six felony convictions, including one for domestic violence and two for robbery that count as strikes under California’s “three strikes” law, meaning he could face up to 25 years to life in prison.

However, Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors had decided – at least for now – not to seek a “three strikes” sentence.

Johnson’s supporters said they believed the alleged assault would not have happened if he had been given proper psychiatric care. Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a sheriff’s office spokesman, said the jail had treated Johnson appropriately but would not elaborate, citing Johnson’s privacy rights.

“Are they going to blame someone else for everything he’s done in his criminal history?” Nelson said. “Throughout the course of Occupy we’ve been accused by them of many things regarding the custody and control of inmates.”

‘It’s a family’

Activist Rachel Dorney, 23, said she had tried to calm Johnson in the early days of the Occupy camp, and when he returned after being beaten, she was scared.

“Then, once you’re in our camp, and you’re helping people out, and you’re talking and not being so aggressive, it’s a family,” Dorney said. “And you have to support everyone.”

She added, “There’s a larger issue with the system. The city won’t support people who have mental issues or who are homeless, and they come to us.”

Jaime Omar Yassin, 42, said Johnson had a political awakening through Occupy.

“He’s exactly the kind of person you would hope would get a second chance,” Yassin said, “and contribute his experiences and knowledge to the movement.”