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.”
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.
“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.
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.