Occupy Oakland protesters tear down fence but police stay away
Oakland city officials reopened the central plaza Wednesday evening to hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters who made it clear that their movement was alive -- despite the dismantling of their camp a day earlier.
In marked contrast to Tuesday evening, no officers in or out of riot gear were to be seen.
Some in the crowd meditated and some danced. Some decried the force that police had used Tuesday evening, when tear gas and other projectiles left one demonstrator in critical condition with a head wound and others bruised and bloodied.
The Hare Krishnas handed out food and others brought pizza to share.
Off limits, however, was the lawn that for 15 nights had accommodated the encampment. It was encircled by a cyclone fence, with dozens of yellowed circles visible where tents had damaged the grass.
When a handful of protesters jumped the fence, the crowd began to chant: "Go around. Go around." A few others retorted: "Tear it down."
By 7 p.m., demonstrators had quietly taken the fence down and the crowd began flooding onto lawn. "Hey look," one man said. "We retook the plaza. Whaddaya know?" There were no police in sight.
Mayor Jean Quan had said the fence was only temporary, since the grass had been chemically treated earlier in the day. It remained to be seen whether protesters would attempt to set up new tents.
Helen Isaacson, 80, of Berkeley came out with her husband to show support after hearing of Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen's critical injury. She held an Occupy Oakland sign emblazoned with a "Grandmothers Against the War" sticker.
"I'm worried about the future of our grandchildren," she said, noting that she visited the encampment a few days ago and was "impressed" with its spirit and organization.
Quan, she said, "made a terrible mistake." Asked about the cyclone fence that now lay in pieces, she said, "I'm happy they took it down."
Her husband, 81-year-old Joel Isaacson, pointed to the yellow circles where tents had stood. "This is what free speech looks like," he said. "That's an area that belongs to the people."
Peaceful tactics seemed to prevail Wednesday evening. When a man announced that Occupy Wall Street was donating $10,000 to the Oakland movement, deafening cheers rose up.
The evening gathering came after city officials emerged from their cocoon of silence to explain their actions.
Quan, who had long expressed support for the movement, despaired at the turn of events, saying she was "saddened" but felt that safety was too compromised at the encampment and communication yielded little.
"We don't want this to be about demonstrators and police," she said. "We want this to be about their cause" of jobs and justice.
The breaking point for her, she said, came as the camp's self-appointed security had meted out justice by beating a man with a 2-by-4. There were 27 calls for paramedics at the camp and organizers largely blocked access, she added.
"We've got to have better ways of keeping the peace," she said, noting, "It's a tough time in America. We're trying to find the right thing to do."
Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said he had launched a criminal investigation into the use of force that left Olsen, the Iraq war veteran, with a skull fracture. Jordan said his officers used tear gas and bean bag projectiles on the crowd.
While he said Oakland police have not used rubber bullets or wooden dowels since 2003, he acknowledged that some of the other 14 agencies that participated in crowd control Tuesday night may have. He is investigating that as well, he said, and Quan plans a full review of police tactics.
A number of demonstrators have displayed injuries inconsistent with bean bag projectiles.
"We will allow people to demonstrate, to march and to express their opinions," Jordan said. But he and Quan stressed that camping will not be permitted and free speech activities should occur only between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Demonstrators take issue with those rules, which could spell another showdown.
"That's absolutely unconstitutional," said Carol Norris, 49, a San Francisco psychotherapist who attended the evening rally to voice her support. "It's a 24/7 kind of thing.... I plan to continue to be here -- peaceably."
The use of force Tuesday night, she said, "was like killing a fly with a bowling ball."
-- Lee Romney in Oakland
Photo: Occupy Oakland protester Tasha Casini showed off a massive bruise Wednesday that she said she received in a direct hit from a rubber bullet. Credit: Lee Romney / Los Angeles Times