Sunday, January 29, 2012

Police confirm over 400 arrests at Occupy Oakland rally

Riot police fired tear gas and arrested more than 400 Oaklanders, as hordes of anti-Wall Street protesters tried to take over downtown buildings including City Hall, police said.

The clashes began just before 3 p.m. on Saturday when protesters marched toward the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and began to tear down construction barricades. The Oakland police said in a statement that the crowd was ordered to disperse when protesters “began destroying construction equipment and fencing.”

Several hours later, some protesters broke into City Hall, the police said. On Sunday, Jean Quan, the mayor of Oakland toured City Hall to survey the damage to the building. Glass display cases had been smashed and graffiti was splashed on the walls, The Associated Press reported. At one point during the protest, The AP quoted Mayor Quan as saying that demonstrators, who broke into the hall burned flags they found inside, broke an electrical box and damaged art displays, including an exhibit of recycled art that had been made by children.

“I do understand that people were enraged by the brutality that they had already seen,” said Omar Yassin, 42, a member of the group's media committee.

Yassin echoed comments made by other group members that protesters found the door to City Hall ajar on Saturday evening.

The Occupy Oakland Media Committee group issued a statement on Sunday charging that officers had violated the police department's code of conduct for dealing with protesters, calling the mass arrests “illegal.”

Most of the arrests occurred late Saturday, when large groups were corralled in front of the Downtown Oakland Y.M.C.A. on Broadway.

On a livestream broadcast on the Web site, dozens of protesters could be seen sitting cross-legged in the darkness in front of the Y.M.C.A. Their hands appeared to be bound behind them while officers stood watch. The protesters occasionally sang or cheered. In a statement on Sunday afternoon, the police said the marchers “invaded” the Y.M.C.A.

Caitlin Maning, 55, a film professor who is a member of the Occupy Oakland media team, said protesters had been invited into the Y.M.C.A. to escape being kettled on Broadway, but ended up being prevented from exiting through a rear door by police.

The events were part of a demonstration dubbed “Move-In Day,” a plan by protesters to take over the vacant convention center and use it as a communelike command center, according to the Web site

“We were going to set up a community center,” said Benjamin Phillips, 32, a member of the Occupy Oakland media team. “It would be a place where we could house people, feed people, do all the things that we have been doing.”

In an open letter to Mayor Quan on the Move-In Day site, the group also said it was considering “blockading the airport indefinitely, occupying City Hall indefinitely” and “shutting down the Oakland ports.” Occupy protesters did briefly shut down the city's port in November.

In a statement issued before the march, Ms. Quan said that “the residents of Oakland are wearying of the constant focus and cost to our city.” On Saturday night, she added: “Once again, a violent splinter group of the Occupy movement is engaging in violent actions against Oakland. The Bay Area Occupy movement has got to stop using Oakland as their playground.”

Ms. Quan has spent her first term embattled by Occupy protesters who set up camp at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in October. After initially embracing the protest, she ordered the camp removed.

After a series of violent episodes, including a clash in which a Marine veteran who served in the Iraq war suffered a fractured skull when struck by a projectile in a confrontation with the police, Ms. Quan relented and permitted the protesters to return. But two weeks later, in response to fears of renewed violence, she ordered the plaza to be cleared again. NY Times

Mr. Phillips, the Occupy media team member, who said he was an Air Force veteran, spoke Saturday night from his home on Grand Avenue, where he had stopped to rinse tear-gas residue from his contact lenses. He described the scene in front of the Y.M.C.A. as “terrifying.”

“This is disgusting, because this is not the way that America is supposed to work,” he said. “You're supposed to be able to have something like freedom to assemble and air your grievances.”

“It's bizarre,” he said of the police reaction. “It's not something you expect to see in the United States, and we've seen it over and over in Oakland.”

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