32 arrested at Occupy Oakland camp
Thirty-two people were arrested early Monday as Oakland police and assisting agencies cleared the civic center Occupy encampment for the second time in less than a month, asserting that "absolutely no lodging" will be permitted moving forward.
The peaceful operation resulted in no injuries, Oakland Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said at a morning news briefing, with an exhausted Mayor Jean Quan by his side. Only nine of those arrested were from Oakland, he added.
The details emerged as downtown Oakland awoke to police helicopters, barricades and blocked streets in a reprise of the pre-dawn Oct. 25 raid that first disassembled the tent community in front of City Hall.
Meanwhile, protesters vowed to regroup at 4 p.m. for a general assembly at Oakland’s main library and said they would move to take back the plaza.
“That goes without saying. They’re not going to be able to keep this clear,” said Lauren Smith, 29, of Concord, an Oakland native who has been supporting the movement.
Like many, she said problems at the camp -- such as some violence and drug use -- plague the entire city and should not have been used as justification for a crackdown.
One demonstrator, a veteran of a recent UC Berkeley tree-sitting protest, had lodged himself in a tree on the plaza, and Jordan said his department was seeking advice from Berkeley colleagues on how to coax him down.
But the plaza was otherwise void of demonstrators by daylight. By 7:30 a.m., sagging tents with their poles removed dominated the former encampment as about 50 protesters peacefully faced off with police.
Quan, a veteran liberal activist who had allowed the camp to reestablish itself and then unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate with its residents as problems of illegal fires and sporadic assaults mounted, said this time she meant business.
"It was no longer about abuses of the financial system and the unemployed," she said of the encampment’s raison d’etre, noting it had become cemented in the minds of officials and many residents as a “place of violence” after a fatal shooting Thursday of an encampment participant.
“We had to bring the camp to an end before more people were hurt,” she said before issuing a plea to protesters throughout the region: “We’re asking everyone to respect my city’s decision to close the encampment even if we support the movement.”
Oakland has struggled with a dwindling police force and gutted city budget, and the enforcement actions have caused measurable pain that is expected to continue.
While police agencies that offered mutual aid on the night of Oct. 25 -– when tear gas and other projectiles were fired at demonstrators opposing the camp's removal earlier in the day -– did so on their own dime, this time Oakland is footing the bill.
The action, City Administrator Deanna Santana explained, was planned and not “an emergency.”
Assistance from surrounding agencies for Monday alone is expected to run $300,000 to $500,000 she said, not including overtime for Oakland officers. Quan told KQED in a lengthy interview that city expenses to deal with the Occupy encampment and protests have amounted to “at least a couple million dollars.”
The drain on police has brought additional costs. An evening protest by about 500 demonstrators on Oct. 29 so stretched officer resources that 179 calls to 911 from throughout the city backed up over a two-hour period, city officials said.
Downtown enterprises, some of whom were vandalized after a largely peaceful “general strike” on Nov. 2, have also suffered, saying the camp has caused “many of our small businesses, many of our restaurants and hotels, to lose hundreds of patrons and possibly hundreds of jobs.”
Those costs to patrons and jobs have not been quantified.
But in response to a poll commissioned by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce last week, nearly two-thirds of Oakland residents said they believe that Occupy Oakland has harmed local businesses and workers, and most of those polled said the encampment should end.
Although Oakland residents generally support the movement’s core tenets, more than a third of the 1,100 voters polled on Nov. 8 and 9 said the encampment made them less likely to go downtown.
“Oaklanders know that the encampment is damaging our city’s reputation as a place to locate and grow small business and [is] cutting off vital customers from businesses who need them now more than ever,” said chamber president Joseph Haraburda of the results.
On Monday, Quan said that some protesters had agreed to leave voluntarily. Some went to homeless shelters, and three churches stepped up Sunday to offer alternate lodging.
The city opened its winter shelter Monday, one day ahead of schedule. Other campers, meanwhile, have moved to Snow Park, near Lake Merritt and less than a mile from City Hall, where an annex encampment is still standing.
Jordan said it will be removed at a later point but declined specifics. The decision not to take it down Monday morning was based on resources, he said, stressing that camping would not be tolerated in any city park.
City officials hoped to clear the plaza and reopen it for “peaceful assembly” by 6 p.m., they said.
There will be a “strong police presence in the plaza 24/7” to ensure that no tents, sleeping bags or other signs of lodging re-emerge, Jordan said, adding the city will “likely” hire private security to help due to the Police Department’s short staffing.
After the camp was last cleared, police and Quan initially said free-speech activities would only be allowed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
But Jordan clarified Monday that there is no curfew and that as long as camping does not occur, it is every citizen’s right to be in the plaza around the clock. The Occupy Oakland encampment, Quan noted, declined to designate a group to negotiate with her, isolating her among the nation’s mayors.
She has stayed engaged with some activists, however, urging them to move beyond the camping tactic to drill down on the issues of wealth inequality that the movement emerged to highlight.
Occupy Wall Street is lodged in a private park, Quan noted, adding that there are efforts under way to find private space for “about half” the Oakland campers.
Santana stepped to the podium soon after to clarify that the city has nothing to do with the effort to find alternative space for the movement. The exchange offered a glimpse at the battling interests that have left Quan bruised over the past month, as she faces criticism from Occupy supporters and business interests fed up with the camp.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in the chamber-commissioned poll said they disapproved of the way the mayor was handling the protest. The big question on everyone’s minds was how Monday evening’s protests would play out.
Paul Junge, the chamber's public police director, lives just blocks from downtown and had been watching TV coverage and live streams of the police activity since 4 a.m. He attended the morning news briefing and said he was pleased with the peaceful action.
"I think the Oakland PD on Oct. 25 had a very good operation in the morning to secure the plaza. It appears they've done it again," Junge said. "The challenge comes later."
Oakland Police Sgt. Christopher Bolton said the numerous mutual aid agencies helping the city were briefed on Oakland policies to ensure that they would not use projectiles banned by city ordinance, such as rubber bullets or wooden dowels.
Oakland police use CS gas, a type of tear gas, and bean bag projectiles only, he said they were told. An investigation is continuing into whether any agencies used banned projectiles on Oct. 25, he said.
That night, a veteran of the Iraq War was critically injured by a projectile likely fired by police, generating condemnation nationwide. He is recovering.
Quan told KQED the city is in the process of hiring an independent investigator to look into the Oct. 25 events.
Police had responded with tear gas and other projectiles after some demonstrators threw rocks, bottles, paint and other material at officers, but the majority of protesters were non-violent.
“What happened that night, we’re still looking at,” Quan said. “We’re hiring an independent investigator…. I’m not happy if our policies weren’t followed…. Very few of the demonstrators were violent. Very few of the police didn’t stay with policy.”
-- Lee Romney in Oakland and Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco
Photo: An Occupy Oakland protester outlines another in chalk Monday. Credit: Mathew Sumner / Getty Images.