Police in Oakland, California repeatedly attacked mostly peaceful ‘Occupy Oakland’ protesters this evening with non-lethal yet dangerous and painful weapons including tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and wooden dowels. Moral Low Ground editor Brett Wilkins was one of several journalists attacked.
The police action, carried out by Oakland Police officers, Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies and possibly officers from other law enforcement agencies, followed a rally and march through the streets of downtown Oakland attended by as many as a thousand protesters. They were demonstrating against the violent eviction of ‘Occupy Oakland’ from Frank H. Ogawa (Oscar Grant) Plaza and Snow Park, a raid that resulted in the arrest of at least 80 people.
A crowd of several hundred people first gathered in front of the Oakland Public Library around 4:00 pm, where numerous speakers addressed the demonstrators before the march began. Marchers with signs and banners that read “PEOPLE FIRST!”, “OAKLAND TEACHERS SAY NO POLICE VIOLENCE” and other slogans made their way from the library towards the jail, chanting “BANKS GOT BAILED OUT, WE GOT SOLD OUT!” AND “WE ARE THE 99%.”
It wasn’t long before conflict reared its head as a fringe group of anarchists confronted and assaulted officers with red and turquoise paint, while some chanted “THIS IS WHY WE CALL YOU PIGS!” A small group of no more than 10 officers were surrounded by protesters until reinforcements arrived, firing rubber bullets to scatter the crowd.
The protest regrouped and continued to march, ending up at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza at 14th Street and Broadway where police declared the gathering “unlawful.” This, despite the fact that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s office released a statement promising that the plaza “will continue to be open as a free speech area from 6 am to 10 pm.” Demonstrators faced off against a line of officers in riot gear, some of them wielding shotguns, chanting “OSCAR GRANT!” An Oakland Police sergeant then declared the gathering “unlawful” and gave everyone five minutes to disperse. This time they did, continuing their march through the city center until arriving at Snow Park after dark.
Some of the protesters set about re-occupying Snow Park while others returned to Ogawa Plaza, where dozens of riot police awaited them. Again they were ordered to leave, with an OPD sergeant threatening arrest, removal by force and possible “serious injury.” This time, they stayed. Hundreds faced off against the police line, including Joshua Shepherd, a 27-year-old U.S. Navy veteran in uniform carrying a large flag. When asked why he was there, Shepherd told Moral Low Ground: “There is no honor in police beating up peaceful protesters.”
Five minutes passed, and the officers unleashed a powerful barrage of tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and wooden dowels. A young woman who gave only her first name, Sophie, had been laying in the street and took the full force of the police attack. She had to be carried away by three others as she suffered from painful effects of the debilitating chemical attack. This reporter was also gassed as he filmed the assault. The San Jose Mercury News reports that an Oakland Tribune photographer was also struck by a weapon launched by police.
Scott Olsen, a former Marine and Iraq war veteran, was apparently shot in the face or head with a “less lethal” police projectile. Blood poured from his mouth and from a wound in the back of his head. Several other demonstrators were bloodied, some of their wounds were attended to on the spot by medical volunteers despite the overwhelming presence of tear gas. Two police officers were reportedly wounded as well.
The attack scattered the large crowd, but it soon regrouped, with Sophie defiantly heading back toward the police line. At this point, many protesters marched toward City Hall. Around 9:30 pm, officers attacked with tear gas at least two more times.
Despite the brutality, many demonstrators expressed renewed resolve to carry on with the ‘Occupy Oakland’ protests, part of the worldwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement against corporate greed and socioeconomic inequality and injustice. They vowed to gather each and every evening at Ogawa Plaza, which they have renamed Oscar Grant Plaza in honor of the slain 22-year-old father shot and killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Police as he lay face-down on a BART platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009.