Brutal Police Assault on Occupy Oakland March

by the Bay Area Revolution Writers Group 

On Saturday, January 28, more than 1,000 Occupy Oakland demonstrators staged a march to occupy a city-owned building in downtown Oakland, California that has been vacant for the last six years—and transform it into a community center.

This powerful show of the continuing strength and defiance of the Occupy movement was met and brutally assaulted by hundreds of Oakland police, who repeatedly attacked the protesters, penning them into small spaces and shooting tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds into crowds. Throughout the day, people showed great courage and defiance in the face of these brutal attacks.

By the end of the day more than 400 had been arrested.

The Occupy movement has galvanized tens of thousands to actively confront and challenge the towering inequalities and injustices of this system, and to break open a much needed society-wide debate over why such intolerable conditions exist—and whether and how things can be changed. This is extremely dangerous to those who rule a system based on exploitation and oppression, which creates deep chasms between haves and have-nots, and encourages and rewards passivity, ignorance, and unquestioned obedience. When all this begins to break down—as it has in part thanks to the Occupy movement—it begins to threaten their whole social order, and they can't allow it to continue.

This is why—for all their hollow rhetoric about democracy and the "rule of the people," the rulers of this country have moved in a nationally coordinated attempt to violently suppress and co-opt this movement. But so far they haven't succeeded, as Saturday's demonstration showed once again. And this has both inspired millions and scattered seeds of resistance broadly. Now, new and even more brutal attacks are being unleashed. This underscores the importance of people everywhere who have participated in Occupy, as well as those who have supported and been sympathetic to Occupy, to join the struggle to oppose and defeat the attempts by the state to suppress the Occupy movement.

Move-in Day vs. the Police State

The call for the protest from Occupy Oakland read, "Like millions of people in this country, Occupy Oakland has no home. On January 28, Move-in Day, we're going to change that. We're going to occupy a large, vacant building and convert it into a social center…Since November, the city of Oakland and its police force have made it impossible for us to meet, to serve food, and to provide a place for people to stay, in our original home at Oscar Grant Plaza. At the same time, all over the city, thousands of buildings sit empty for the simple reason that they exist to enrich the 1% rather than meet people's needs for space and shelter."

The march was festive as it gathered in the park across from Oakland City Hall—which has been renamed Oscar Grant Plaza after the young Black man shot to death by Oakland cops in 2009. There was a strong sense of community. There was discussion and wrangling, including with revolutionaries taking out Revolution newspaper, BAsics, Bob Avakian's statement, "A Reflection on the 'Occupy' Movement: An Inspiring Beginning...And the Need To Go Further," and the "Call for Mass Action Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement."

As the march circled the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, the primary site that the Occupy protesters hoped to transform, police attacked, for the first of several times, rushing at the crowd from both sides of the march and firing tear gas and projectiles.

Large cordons of police "kettled" protesters—surrounding and confining them in order to break up the demonstration. An undergraduate student at UC Berkeley told Democracy Now!, "The majority of the arrests happened later that evening when we attempted to march to a backup location and to occupy a backup location. The police kettled the protesters twice. The first time we were kettled at 19th and Telegraph, we were surrounded on all sides and given no option to disperse and were then tear-gassed while in the kettle. And it was only really through the scrappiness and resourcefulness of the protesters that we were able to escape that kettle by tearing down a fence and escaping. The protest was then kettled about 20 minutes later at another intersection. Some people were able to escape over a fence, and a few people were able to escape through the YMCA… But many people did not escape." (Democracy Now!, January 30, 2012)

People bravely defended themselves against the police onslaught. Homemade shields were used to protect demonstrators from being hit by police-fired projectiles. Later in the evening, some of the protesters who had not been arrested entered City Hall. A U.S. flag was burned on the City Hall steps, which is not illegal.

Outrage and Condemnation of Police Attack

A January 30 statement from the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF), which provided legal observers for the protest in Oakland said, "Hundreds were arrested unlawfully, without opportunity to disperse, and then detained for many hours on the street and then in buses, in stress positions, and without bathrooms, food or water. Once in jail, protesters faced inhumanely crowded conditions, abusive treatment and were denied access to legal counsel. Many remain unaccounted for, though certainly arrested and awaiting booking two days after being detained."

NLGSF wrote that they had "received many reports of assaults on protesters, including an incident in which police knocked one person's teeth out with a baton strike to the face. Police reportedly threw others through a glass door, and down a flight of steps. A videographer was pushed to the ground and clubbed."

Their statement continued, "Once in Alameda County custody, the arrestees have been held for a prolonged period under horrendous conditions, often remaining overnight in holding areas with no beds or blankets. Some arrestees were apparently held in a shower room. NLGSF has received many reports of injured persons being denied medical care and arrestees denied access to necessary medications. Women arrestees were forced to give urine samples in front of male officers, ostensibly for pregnancy testing."

One 19-year-old woman was taken to the hospital with internal bleeding after police beat her. Police shot at medics who rushed to the aid of injured protesters.

Students from UC Berkeley told Revolution that they were kept for hours with their hands handcuffed behind their backs and that pepper spray was used against people being held in cells.

At least seven members of the media were arrested including reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, KGO radio, Mother Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express. A videographer was shot in the face with a rubber bullet as he attempted to film the police assault.

Orders to stay away from the park that has been the base of Occupy actions in Oakland were issued against 11 protesters, making it, in effect, illegal for them to participate in future Occupy Oakland actions.

A statement from the Occupy Oakland Media Team, issued on January 29, documented numerous ways that the police violated their own rules and policies during the protest by using full baton swings against protesters, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds, and refusing to give protesters an opportunity to disperse.

Part of a Nationwide Attack

The attack in Oakland is part of a nationwide, planned, and systematic unleashing of violence and repression against the Occupy movement. This attack was not just city leaders and police running amuck. It has been revealed, for example, that Oakland's mayor had participated in a conference call with mayors of at least 18 other cities and the Department of Homeland Security prior to a wave of police assaults on Occupy encampments in more than a dozen cities last November, all of which followed a remarkably similar script. And now, as this new attack was coming down in Oakland, authorities were preparing to evict Occupy encampments in other places.

The ideological assaults accompanying the physical assaults on the Occupy movement are also part of a nationwide attack—utilizing major media. Those who are struggling to advance this movement are marginalized, described as not "constructive," ridiculed and demonized.

Why is all this happening? The Occupy movement is playing a very important role in mobilizing people to stand up against injustice and inequality and is contributing in significant ways to changing the atmosphere in a society where millions have watched the coldhearted onslaught of reaction and ached at the lack of any serious opposition. People are lifting their heads, raising and wrangling with big questions about the nature and state of this society and the world—and how to change it. The contention and polarization in society is opening up—with even more potential for sorely needed change. Those who wield power in this country see these protests and these questions as dangerous. And this is why they have come down so viciously on the Occupy movement.

In the face of all this, a significant number of people have refused to back down and are fighting to continue to resist. Across the country there have been seizures of foreclosed homes, the occupation and closing of banks, and a reaching out to allies among different section of the people. The Occupy movement now faces a crossroads. Will it be dispersed, driven into the margins, or co-opted? There is an urgency to many more people, from all over the place, joining the fight against the repression of this movement.

A UC Berkeley student, interviewed on Democracy Now! said, "There was a lot of anger this weekend, and I think that the anger that the protesters showed in the streets this weekend and the fighting back that did take place was reflective of a larger anger in Oakland that is boiling over at the betrayal of the system. I think that people, day by day, are realizing, as the economy gets worse and worse, as unemployment gets worse and worse, as homelessness gets worse and worse, that the economic system, that capitalism in Oakland, is failing us. And people are really angry about that, and they're beginning to fight back. And I think that that's a really inspiring thing."

Another UC Berkeley student spoke to the values of the system on display in the police assault. "We had a big contingent of people who marched in the past and really felt that this was going to be a great community day where we could potentially make a place to study inside this new community building, to bring attention to the displaced people," she told KPFA radio. "This building has not been open for six years. It's not like it was space that was actually being utilized anyway... Private property has taken more importance over helping people who have been displaced by this current crisis." (Flashpoints, January 30, 2012)

After the demonstration, one young revolutionary wrote that there was a spirit of defiance in the streets of Oakland including a section of people who, to a significant degree, have lost their fear of the police and are eager and determined to defend themselves against attack.

The next day, despite not achieving the "move-in" goal, people's spirits were high. A General Assembly called for February 6 to be a day of action against police brutality and arrests, and unanimously voted for a May 1 general strike.

Calls for MORE Repression

It is outrageous that the authorities, police and the media are denouncing protesters as violent, despite numerous videos, available all over the Internet, that clearly show the police repeatedly attacking protesters. And, in the face of this vicious police attack, the authorities are calling for more repression.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders authored an article, written after the police assault, titled, "Let Oakland protesters occupy a county jail cell." Even though police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Occupy protesters three times in the last few months, sending at least two people to hospital intensive care units, Saunders writes "Occupiers do not have to fear that they will be punished…" and asks, "Are there any consequences?"

The day after the protest, in an interview on CBS News, Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente said, "We have been too tolerant of the people that destroy our city." De La Fuente went on to say the protesters were "domestic terrorists" and said that "directions to the police department and our people was to do whatever was necessary to make sure that these people get the message that we will not keep tolerating this."

At a time when the government is passing bills like the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that empowers U.S. armed forces to engage in civilian law enforcement and to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus, as well as other rights for those the government identifies as terrorists, this kind of labeling is completely unacceptable and must be exposed and taken very seriously.

We Can't Let This Become the New Normal

"Never have I felt so helpless and enraged as I do tonight. These kids are heroes, and the rest of the country needs to open its collective eyes and grab what remains of its civil rights, because they are evaporating, quickly. Do you want to know what a police state looks like?"

-- Cathy Jones, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild in a statement to Occupy Oakland's Media Team

"This police repression is becoming normal…. They want everybody who does not come to a march or go to a General Assembly to be completely afraid of it. They want people to be completely terrified so they call us terrorists."

-- Protester and rapper Shake9169 on KPFA radio

Protesters in other cities rallied to show their support for Occupy Oakland. The Occupy Oakland website listed demonstrations against the police attacks in Oakland that were being held in more than 20 cities including New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Jackson, Mississippi, Des Moines, Iowa and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The New York Times reported that 300 demonstrators marched in New York chanting, "New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York" as they moved through the streets, and that 12 protesters were arrested.

People who care about justice and protecting basic rights need to oppose the brutal suppression of the Occupy movement. We can't accept a situation where tear gas and rubber bullets are called out against people who are mobilizing and demonstrating to fight injustice and, as they do, forging a new sense of community. We cannot allow the suppression of a movement that has challenged the inequality in this country and the world and given hope to millions.

Much more opposition is needed nationwide to take on this repression. "A Call for Mass Action Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement" states "...if this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand... if the powers-that-be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement... if people are once again 'penned in'—both literally and symbolically—things will be much worse. THIS SUPPRESSION MUST BE MASSIVELY OPPOSED, AND DEFEATED."

This article originally appeared on Revolution.