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Occupy Oakland: Arrests may top 400; City Hall vandalized

January 29, 2012 |  4:39 pm

Photo: Protesters burn an American flag found inside Oakland City Hall on Saturday. Credit: Beck Diefenbach / Associated Press

Officials said Sunday that arrests from the Occupy Oakland protests the day before could reach 400 and vowed to seek restitution from those who vandalized City Hall.

Mayor Jean Quan said the city would seek monetary damages from protesters. In addition, the mayor said she would pursue “restorative justice” by asking that those deemed guilty be put to work picking up garbage and removing graffiti in East Oakland -- a crime-ridden pocket where Quan has singled out 100 blocks for concentrated resources

Quan  condemned the local movement’s tactics as “a constant provocation of the police with a lot of violence toward them” and said the demonstrations were draining scarce resources from an already strapped city. Damage to the City Hall plaza alone has cost $2 million since October, she said, about as much as police overtime and mutual aid.

Police had their hands full dealing with protesters, some of whom smashed display cases, cut electrical wires and burned an American flag at City Hall.

PHOTOS: Occupy Oakland protest

Oakland has logged five homicides since Friday, added Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Johnna Watson. "If we have to take our law enforcement officers to pay attention to Occupy Oakland, then we are not serving the city residents who need us most," Watson said.

News reports said 200 calls for police service had not been promptly answered Saturday night while officers were engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase with demonstrators.

Saturday’s Occupy action was publicized by the group as a planned takeover of a vacant building that would be "repurposed" as a "social center, convergence center and headquarters of the Occupy Oakland movement." In an open letter to Quan on Wednesday, the group warned that if police attempted to thwart the takeover, "indefinite occupation" of Oakland's airport, port and City Hall could follow.

The takeover effort was unsuccessful.

Police prevented an afternoon attempt by protesters to enter the city’s idled Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. Demonstrators then headed to the nearby Oakland Museum of California, where arrests occurred after an order to disperse was ignored. One officer suffered a cut to his face when a demonstrator threw a bicycle at him, another suffered a cut hand and a third was bruised, Watson said. At least one demonstrator was injured.

Later in the night, marchers entered the downtown Oakland YMCA, where hundreds of arrests took place. The City Hall break-in occurred about the same time, officials said.

Throughout the action, some demonstrators threw bottles and other objects at officers. In a tactic that officials said they had not previously confronted, protesters also moved in on the police line carrying elaborate shields. One such shield, on display at City Hall on Sunday, was about 6 by 4 feet and built of corrugated metal on wood panels, complete with multiple handles. “Commune Move In” was painted on the front of the shield.

“The shields are becoming stronger, larger and more mobile,” Watson said. “We’re in a dangerous area for law enforcement.... We are being assaulted, and when we react to those assaults, we can’t penetrate shields like this.”

Occupy Oakland’s media committee issued a statement condemning the police actions, saying officers did not give demonstrators enough time to disperse before moving in to make mass arrests. Several journalists were detained along with protesters.

“Contrary to their own policy, the OPD gave no option of leaving or instruction on how to depart,” the group said in a news release. “These arrests are completely illegal, and this will probably result in another class action lawsuit against the OPD, who have already cost Oakland $58 million in lawsuits over the past 10 years.

“With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority?” the group asked. “Was it worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent?"

In a morning tour of the damaged City Hall, Quan pointed out that a room with a smashed door and toppled soda machine is used for classes for low-income, first-time homeowners.

City Council agendas and other trash littered the floor in the building’s grand lobby. Although some graffiti had already been removed, evidence of the previous night’s mayhem was visible in broken display cases. A student art exhibit had been damaged and wires severed in the building’s electrical box. Quan said video showed that the crowd gained entry after a man forced a crowbar between the front doors of the historic building and depressed the emergency release bar on the inside.

Near the door, a more than century-old architectural model of the regal structure was toppled in its case. Oakland’s City Hall was built after the1906 earthquake and “lovingly restored” after the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor.

“It’s really a symbol of how resilient Oakland is,” Quan said of the building. “And we’ll survive this too.”

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--Lee Romney in Oakland

Photo: Protesters burn an American flag inside Oakland City Hall on Saturday. Credit: Beck Diefenbach / Associated Press

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