Was police provocation behind the stand-off between law enforcers and Occupy protesters in Oakland, where over 400 people were detained on Saturday night? Witnesses insist no order to disperse preceded the mass arrests.
The peaceful rally last Saturday turned into a violent clash, with protesters throwing stones at police and officers answering with tear gas grenades. In the end, law enforcement brutally beat the rioters, with over 400 arrested, on charges of disobeying commands to disperse and vandalism.
On Sunday, Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland was petrified to see the results of the assault on City Hall. Everything made of glass was smashed, documents spilled over the filthy floors, and graffiti covered the walls of the Hall. Reportedly, a US national flag had been burnt.
“Stop using Oakland as a playground,” the Mayor called on the activists, condemning the movement's tactics as “a constant provocation of the police with a lot of violence toward them.”
Demonstrations have already cost the city in already grave financial circumstances another $5 million.
The mayor said now the Occupy movement members have no excuse for their behavior.
After the arrests, Occupy Oakland accused police of unlawful actions because the protesters were not given an opportunity to disperse. In turn, police say the people that gathered in front of City Hall did so with “the intent of unlawfully entering” the Mayor’s office.
So goes the official version of events.
But reading the reports of those who were actually there, and getting into details of that violent night portrays a more complicated picture than that of reckless protesters and law-keeping police.
Witnesses say the violent assault on City Hall never actually happened. Protesters simply entered the building after massive arrests police made when the activists failed to occupy an abandoned building.
“I do not know how, but they opened the front door to [the] City Hall and occupied the building. Opened, as in no window smashing. The move was not meant to be an occupation but more of a show of solidarity to the 300 arrested protesters down the street,” says user baked420 who shared his experience on the US social network Reddit.
The whole action on Saturday started as an attempt to “move-in” to a large abandoned building and turn it into a political and social center to coordinate the Occupy movement, Sara Flounders told RT. With Occupy encampments banned across the country, the activists just do not have a place to convene, while the initiative has never stopped growing.
The police had circled the building meant for occupation before activists arrived. But after several fences were taken down in anger and tear gas smoked, only a few arrests were made.
The 400+ detentions were still to take place an hour later, as the activists streamed their march into other parts of Oakland. At that point, police simply stopped the march, declared it “unlawful assembly” and arrested those they chose, without giving any loud warning to disperse or actually offering any exit route.
“Tonight's mass arrest occurred without a dispersal order. No law was broken. The only order given was: "You are under arrest. Submit to your arrest," writes baked420.
Doubts arise about how lawful this mass arrest is: police detained hundreds of people for the actions of several dozen, away from the actual scene and at a different time. Nevertheless, those arrested were charged under CA Penal Code 409 that deals with misdemeanor and riots.
In this light, police actions should be considered in regard to the First Amendment, which provides the right to peaceful assembly, point out the activists.
“Contrary to their own policy, the Oakland Police Department [OPD] gave no option of leaving or instruction on how to depart. These arrests are completely illegal, and this will probably result in another class-action lawsuit against the OPD,” says a release from the group.
Robert Wohl from the Occupy DC action team told RT that it is shocking and “horrifying to see what is coming out of Oakland but it is hardly surprising.”
“I think you have to recognize the specifics of the Oakland police department,” he said. “They are known as one of the most violent and repressive in the country. They’ve murdered people, they’ve been using violent means on the protesters from the beginning there. Oakland has become a flashpoint because I think it has exposed how militarized American police have become in recent years.”
Kevin Zeese, the director of ItsOurEconomy campaign believes that people need to be very skeptical when they see scenes of violence or property damage ignited by the protesters.
“We can’t tell when these acts of property damage occur or something like burning the American flag occurs whether that is something actually instigated by a provocateur or whether it is by the campers,” he said. “This has been a non-violent movement for the most part.”