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Occupy Oakland tries to open vacant building, meets cop violence and mass arrests

Published Jan 30, 2012 9:32 PM

Some 2,000-plus Occupy Oakland participants were met with heavy police violence and hundreds of arrests on Jan. 28 as they marched on the long-vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The group had been planning the building occupation for several months.

Dubbed "Move-In Day," the intention was to turn the building into a “social center, convergence center, headquarters, free kitchen and place of housing for Occupy Oakland.” Organizers had described their plan in an open letter to Oakland’s mayor, Jean Quan; the Oakland Police Department; and the Oakland City Council.

Occupy Oakland has maintained a strong presence at Oscar Grant Plaza, even though the city busted up its encampment there. It has held general assemblies, fed the homeless and hosted multiple other meetings and activities. People there have been constantly harassed and picked up by police for minor “offenses” such as holding an umbrella — considered a form of tent or structure — or feeding the homeless without a license. This plus the inclement winter weather motivated the planned move-in event.

Protesters marched peacefully through the streets of Oakland, their sound truck blasting celebratory music, towards the building. After one route was blocked by police, the marchers filed around the back way, through Laney College, without incident.

When we arrived at the building, we were met by police in riot gear protecting the abandoned building from the likes of Occupy. As the crowd tried to find a way to enter, tearing down some sections of chain-link fencing, the cops started launching smoke bombs and tear gas.

City management was determined to keep the Occupy movement from having a home or center of operations. Never mind that the building had been abandoned by the city, and Occupy was ready to fix it up and use it to serve the community.

A group of parents with their children had pulled back to protect themselves from police violence. Out of nowhere some riot cops appeared and started pushing at them, one swinging his club. The group included young children and a woman with a baby.

The crowd was forced to move on to Plan B, another identified abandoned building. Again, riot cops blocked the streets, throwing flash-bang grenades and firing rubber bullets, bean bags and tear gas at the protesters.

The people marched back to Oscar Grant Plaza to regroup. After resting and eating, they had a short meeting and decided to make one more attempt to occupy another building. The cops surrounded and tried to "kettle" them. (“Kettle” is a word that originated in Britain and is now used here to describe police trapping demonstrators in a small area.) They broke free by tearing down a fence.

Blocks later, the cops successfully kettled a group of 300 to 400. Many tried to run into the still-open YMCA but were met by more cops at the back door as they tried to exit. The cops arrested this entire crowd of up to 400, with many reporting injuries from police batons.

Occupy Oakland’s Move-In Committee said in a statement: “Occupy Oakland's building occupation, an act of civil disobedience, was disrupted by a brutal police response yesterday. Protesters were met with baton strikes, shot with rubber bullets and exposed to tear gas along the route. Police immediately issued denials that tear gas was used; however, as many victims can attest, it was used freely and without regard to safety of the diverse crowd, which included families and children. … These actions from the OPD come at a time when the city of Oakland is laying off hundreds of workers, and following millions of wasted dollars in similar brutal police actions.”

Solidarity demonstrations took place the next day by more than 21 Occupies all over the U.S. and Canada. In Iowa, more than 100 members of Occupy Des Moines set up an encampment at People’s Park at the Iowa State Capitol in solidarity with Occupy Oakland. Occupy Oakland planned to continue its teach-ins and meetings despite the arrests and repression. They have asked for donations to bail out the hundreds arrested. For information, Google “Occupy Oakland Bail Fund.”