Friday, November 04, 2011

Occupy strike descends into chaos

by Demian Bulwa, Matthai Kuruvila,Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writers

Thursday, November 3, 2011 SF Chronicle

(11-03) 09:49 PDT OAKLAND -- A long day of mostly peaceful protest in
Oakland descended into chaos after midnight. Masked vandals shattered
windows, set fires and plastered downtown businesses with graffiti before
police moved in, dispersing crowds with tear gas and flash-bang grenades
and making dozens of arrests.

Buildings that had windows smashed early today around City Hall included a
Men's Wearhouse store, a dental office and the headquarters of the police
internal affairs division.

Graffiti was everywhere - from anarchist symbols to threatening gang tags.
Messages included "Oakland commune" and "kill cops."

The street clashes - which hospitalized three protesters and left several
officers with minor injuries - happened near Occupy Oakland's tent city in
Frank Ogawa Plaza at 14th Street and Broadway, which had been the center
of Wednesday's general strike. That event peaked when thousands of people
angry at economic inequality marched to the Port of Oakland, shutting it

Most of those people had gone home by 11 p.m. Wednesday, when dozens of
protesters took over a vacant two-story building at 16th Street and
Broadway - two blocks from the encampment - that once housed the nonprofit
Travelers Aid Society.

Hundreds of others looked on as protesters barricaded the block at both
ends with wooden pallets, trash cans, tables and tires. They hung banners
from the building's roof, spray-painted its exterior and chanted, "Whose
street, our street!" One group of protesters broke cement blocks into
baseball-size rocks.

Police had kept their distance from Occupy Oakland protesters since coming
under scrutiny for deploying tear gas and flash-bang grenades and firing
projectiles in a clash last week that left one demonstrator with a serious
head injury. Police critics said officers had used excessive force and
violated city policies on crowd control.

But late Wednesday, hundreds of police officers responded to the area just
before midnight. They found that protesters - many covering their faces
with bandanas, and some in gas masks - had started a massive trash fire at
16th and Broadway that sent flames 15 feet high.

Police said later that they were concerned that the flames endangered
residents in the area along with the 500 or so people on the street.

Just after midnight, police ordered the crowd to disperse as an unlawful
assembly. Soon, one officer on Broadway was struck on his face shield by a
bottle, disorienting him.

Within a minute, officers launched flash-bang grenades and tear-gas
canisters. Protesters scattered and a fire crew put out the blaze.

The crowd quickly regrouped and entered into a long standoff with officers
on Broadway. Another confrontation happened at 16th Street and San Pablo
Avenue, where police surrounded several dozen people and arrested them
just before 1:30 a.m.

Several of those arrested spoke before they were taken away. Jonathan Yeh,
26, of Davis, said he had been in the wrong spot at the wrong time and had
not heard a dispersal order.

"I did hear people throwing bottles and breaking windows," he said.

Morgan Ress, 30, of Oakland was watching the protest as an observer for
the National Lawyers Guild.

"Police formed lines on both sides of us," Ress said. "I saw them beat
anyone who ran and arrest anyone who stood still."

Derek Winslow, 26, of Oakland, was working as a medic.

"I was attempting to provide medical aid to someone who was injured,"
Winslow said. "I didn't know how close I was to the police line. I was
knocked down (by police) and told not to move."

He conceded that he hadn't obeyed orders.

"They gave me an order to disperse and I did not leave," he said.

Police officials drew a contrast between Wednesday's march to the port by
Occupy Oakland protesters - which involved thousands of people and was
peaceful - and the nighttime events, in which a much smaller crowd grew

They said the late-night protesters had thrown threw metal pipes, hammers,
glass bottles, rocks and cobblestones.

"This begged action," said Sgt. Chris Bolton, chief of staff to interim
Police Chief Howard Jordan. "We are reacting to the situation provided to

Many protesters disagreed, saying police had escalated the situation and
should not have used tear gas. During the standoff, people shouted "go
home" at the officers, who appeared to be from several Bay Area agencies.

"These people would be extremely peaceful if the agitators - the police -
didn't show up," said a 25-year-old man in a bandana who declined to give
his name.

He said the protesters' late-night actions had been "tactical. In other
words, it was to make it bigger. There's an awe factor."

The protesters who were on hand for the clashes, though, were deeply split
over what happened. Some scolded window-breakers and told them Occupy
Oakland was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Whenever someone would
light a fire, others would try to stomp it out.

"Violence is not a statement," one protester shouted after a man in a mask
broke a clothing store window.

As protesters built one of the barricades on 16th Street, a nearby
resident who had joined Wednesday's demonstrations walked up and began to
take it apart. But whenever he moved a trash can or table or pallet, a man
in a mask would put it back.

"What does putting trash in the street accomplish?" asked the neighbor,
35-year-old Tarrell Gamble, as a crowd confronted him. "This is somebody's

Masked men shouted and swore at Gamble, and one protester briefly put him
in a headlock. They accused him of being a police officer and said, "Let's
give it up for the hall monitor."

"Everybody's so tough with a mask on," Gamble said as he continued to try
to clear his street, without success.

After two women escorted him away, Gamble said, "The protest is supposed
to be about corporate greed. It's not about trashing the streets of

Nearby, a man in a mask said Gamble was wrong. "These are drastic
measures, to make people listen," the 24-year-old said. "This is our block

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