OAKLAND, Calif. - Police arrested some 400 demonstrators Jan. 28 in response to the latest attempt by Occupy Oakland activists to occupy a vacant building and establish a new encampment there.
Supporters said during an action they called "Move-In Day," a crowd of between 1,000 and 2,000 demonstrators marched to the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, near downtown, intent on turning the long-vacant building into a new encampment and social center. There they were met by police in riot gear.
Oakland police said the crowd was ordered to disperse when some protesters started destroying construction equipment and fencing. Police said they responded with tear gas and beanbag projectiles after protesters threw bottles, rocks and other objects at them. Protesters said police also used rubber coated bullets and concussion grenades.
Marchers then converged on a downtown park, and, ordered to disperse there, ended up at a YMCA on the edge of downtown, where many of the arrests took place.
The protest's final stop was City Hall, where some demonstrators broke in, cutting electrical wires, smashing glass cases holding a children's art display, and burning a U.S. flag.
Police said three officers, and one protester, were injured - a claim disputed by the protesters.
It was the first such action since an attempted building occupation failed early in November, after being met with concerted police action. Occupy Oakland's original encampment in front of City Hall was violently evicted Oct. 25, and peacefully removed a second time Nov. 14.
On Nov. 2 and again on Dec. 12, the Port of Oakland was shut down by protests.
Earlier in the week, Occupy Oakland had warned Mayor Jean Quan, the police and the City Council they planned to take over a building on Jan. 28, to serve as a "social center, convergence center, headquarters, free kitchen, and place of housing." Though they did not specifically name the Kaiser Center, discussion had focused for weeks on the likelihood of a takeover attempt there.
Occupy Oakland had also threatened that if thwarted, it would consider "occupying City Hall indefinitely," shutting down the Port of Oakland including the airport, and calling on the hacker group Anonymous for support.
Speaking on radio station KPFA the next day, Maria, an Occupy participant who didn't give her last name, challenged the contention that the attempted occupation was illegal. She pointed out that "thousands of abandoned buildings remain locked up while people are freezing and sleeping in the streets every night ... abandoned buildings, and people sleeping on the streets at night, is an example of what's wrong with our larger system, the capitalist system we live under today."
Maria added that "the purpose of police in this society is to protect the sacrosanct institution of private property at the expense of people meeting their needs."
But others have pointed to the estimated $5 million the protests have cost the city at a time when its budget woes are already so severe that city workers, many of whom are people of color, are losing their jobs.
Inspecting the damage at City hall, Mayor Jean Quan called on community members and Occupy participants to "stop making excuses for this behavior," and urged the Occupy movement to "stop using Oakland as its playground."
Some Occupy activists, meanwhile, threatened to sue the police, contending their arrests were illegal because no order was issued to disperse.
On Jan. 20, Occupy Oakland joined other Bay Area Occupy protesters and other movements in a nationwide day of action initiated by Occupy Wall St. and Move to Amend, to shut down San Francisco's financial district. The daylong nonviolent demonstration used a variety of creative means, including blocking Wells Fargo's headquarters, holding a "foreclosure party," invading Bechtel Corp.'s lobby to read a list of charges, and staging a "squid fry" at Goldman Sachs headquarters