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Oakland police arrest 19 in clash with Occupy protesters

January 28, 2012 |  5:20 pm

Oakland police faced off Saturday afternoon with hundreds of Occupy movement protesters, arresting 19 of them during a much-anticipated demonstration focused on the takeover of "a large vacant building in an undisclosed location downtown."

In anticipation of Saturday’s action, police in riot gear were at the ready and city officials had attempted to redirect Occupy sympathizers by encouraging them to "get involved with any one of the hundreds of organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry, fighting for fair and accessible housing, enhancing literacy, serving children, or improving the livability of our community." They even released a list.

But a group that numbered about 300 at an initial rally near City Hall swelled to more than 500 by 2 p.m. and marched toward the idled Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. Under a cloudless blue sky, demonstrators began tearing down the perimeter fencing around the auditorium, and police moved to stop them.

By 3 p.m., an area to the west near the Oakland  Museum of California was declared an illegal assembly as a thick line of riot-clad officers attempted to disperse the protesters. Police fired tear gas and other projectiles, according to media reports.

Most of the 19 arrests occurred when demonstrators "ignored the dispersal order and assaulted officers," police said. Three officers were reported injured, but no no details were released on the nature of the injuries.

Occupy demonstrators had planned an attempted takeover of a backup building if their initial effort failed, but it remained unclear Saturday afternoon whether they would follow through.

In a flier distributed at the starting march, they explained that the movement, "like millions of people, needs a home. Because thousands of buildings sit empty -– for the simple reason that they exist to enrich the 1%. Because with our own space we can create a social center that begins to meet people’s needs -– our needs -– and work to build a world based on humanity and community, not profit.”

At a news conference Wednesday, a group calling itself the Occupy Oakland Move-In Assembly announced the takeover plans, and warned Mayor Jean Quan in an open letter of consequences if police moved in.

"If you try to evict us again we will make your lives more miserable than you make ours," it read, by "blockading the airport indefinitely, occupying City Hall indefinitely [and] shutting down the Oakland ports" as protesters have done in the past. Calling on the hacktivist group Anonymous for support was another of the the possible tactics the group said it would follow.

City officials reacted sternly. 

City Administrator Deanna Santana said the city “will not be bullied by threats of violence or illegal activity.... Breaking into buildings, assaulting police officers, provoking confrontations and vandalizing property are tactics that are counter-productive and divide our community. They drain scarce City resources away from the neighborhoods in greatest need. Oakland deserves better."

Meanwhile, Quan said in a statement late Friday that "the residents of Oakland are wearying of the constant focus and cost to our city."

The demonstration -– which organizers said would include music and poetry as well as an "open forum" to begin reorganizing "as a collective" -- comes on the heels of other marches over the last few weeks.
Police were on the alert during those actions, saying that social media sites had described them as ant-police.

They were largely peaceful, although police said "about 15 arrests were made, with approximately 60% of those arrested residing outside the region or the state." Since the first encampment was removed  Oct. 25, police said, about 300 people have been arrested.

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-- Lee Romney in Oakland

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