East Bay News

Occupy protesters speak at Oakland council meeting

Thursday, November 03, 2011
Occupy protesters speak at Oakland council meeting Occupy Oakland demonstrator wearing gas mask Damage in Oakland from Occupy general strike (223) Occupy Oakland encampment Occupy Oakland demonstrators at general strike Press conference by Oakland city officials. Pictured: Quan, Jordan Oakland graffiti Port of Oakland entrance blocked Occupy protesters sit in a building theyve occupied Oakland protesters occupy a building interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan

A contentious meeting was held Thursday night at Oakland City Hall while the council is trying to decide what the city should do next regarding the Occupy Oakland protesters. Well over 100 people lined up to speak and it was a long meeting with a few tense moments.

At one point a speaker refused to leave when his time was up and had to be escorted away from the mic. Then, members of the audience jeered when Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan addressed the City Council and said, "My officers showed great restraint."

Regardless, for the most part, this special Oakland City Council meeting was calm, largely because the overwhelming majority who showed up were in support of the Occupy Oakland movement.

"Occupy Oakland is bigger, much bigger than Oakland and we have an opportunity to lead in this city," said Nikki Bas, an Occupy Oakland supporter.

Council members called for this special forum in hopes of getting a better idea on what position, if any, the city should take on Occupy Oakland. The encampment in front of City Hall continues to grow one week after officers raided it. And Wednesday, thousands took part in a general strike that while mostly peaceful, ended in a violent clash with police. A small group of so-called anarchists broke windows and spray-painted graffiti throughout downtown.

"We've had several conversations with businesses that are saying they will consider not renewing their leases unless something is done and done immediately. The damage to the property is unacceptable. The violence is uncalled for," said Joseph Haraburda from the Oakland Metro Chamber of Commerce.

But supporters of Occupy Oakland urged the council to look beyond the violence. They say Wednesday's general strike was an inspiration.

"Now what happened late last night should not overshadow what beautiful thing happened yesterday," said Pamela Drake, an Occupy Oakland supporter.

"If you've been to an Oakland Raiders game, you have seen people engaging in violent acts. You do not hold everyone at that game responsible for the acts of a few," said Suzi Spangenberg, an Occupy Oakland supporter.

The council decided not to take any action Thursday night. Council members say there's just not enough votes to do so, but they could adopt some sort of resolution at their next regular meeting on Nov. 15.

Oakland cleans up after general strike

Oakland police said on Thursday that they were left with no choice but to use tear gas Wednesday evening to break up a dangerous crowd.

What had been a mostly-calm day of protest turned violent overnight, and the protesters themselves expressed concern about what this does to their message. City officials are still tallying damage from Wednesday evening, but they say their strategy of a minimal police presence worked until a small splinter group took matters into their own hands.

The real problem began around midnight when a small group of demonstrators took over a building that was once the office of the Travelers Aid Society, an agency that helped the homeless. The building now sits empty.

The group apparently set a dumpster on fire in front of the building, painted graffiti on the walls, broke windows and punched a hole in the roof. The group had plans to stay there for the long-term, but they were finally evicted by police.

"When a small group of very violent protesters tried to take over the situation, we were able to arrest them and protect our city," said Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.

Police say they fired tear gas and bean bags into the crowd.

Officials with the Oakland Police Department displayed dozens of items -- including rocks, swords and shields -- that they say a renegade group of protesters used against them.

"We didn't want it to be violent," said demonstrator Derek Winslow. "It wasn't the best reaction, but we are frustrated."

Winslow was one of the demonstrators arrested and said he had no regrets about how things went down.

"I didn't destroy any property yesterday," Winslow said, "but destruction of property is not violent."

In the end, Oakland did have to call for mutual aid and 400 officers from 14 other agencies got involved before things settled down early this morning.

"They were all over the place, sweetie," Quan said when asked where the police were. "It was very hard -- it's a big city. They were in the 100 block."

The trouble came after a mostly-peaceful day of demonstrations in downtown Oakland that ended with a massive march to the port, which was closed for some time. In the afternoon, there were some instances of vandalism, including broken windows at several banks.

The damage done last night has left some small business owners frustrated and angry.

"Outside of the fact that I do support the 99 percent, this is my baby," said Oakland business owner Shari Rivers, who found her coffee shop vandalized Thursday morning.

But Rivers isn't blaming what happened last night on the protesters.

"I totally blame this on the city," Rivers said. "The way things have been handled is totally out of control. This doesn't even look like anything that happens in the United States."

Members of the Occupy Oakland demonstration left signs at businesses apologizing for the vandalism and said they didn't do it. Some members of the Occupy movement tried to clean off the spray paint as commercial steam cleaners sprayed down walls.

City councilman Ignacio De La Fuente believes the destruction could have been avoided.

"I believe it was because of the mayor's and the city administrator's directive for the police to stand down and be invisible and not present," De La Fuente said.

Dom Artozarena, president of the Oakland Police Officer's Association, surveyed the many broken windows at the police substation near Frank Ogawa Plaza.

"I think if we would have (taken care) of this thing early on, possibly. It's hard to say," said Artozarena when asked if police could have prevented the vandalism.

"It was heartbreaking to wake up in the morning to see what happened," said demonstrator Elizabeth Gregg. "The people who did this are not representative of this community."

Campers at Frank Ogawa Plaza share that frustration. They spent today trying to figure out how to kick out unlawful protesters they believe are marring the movement. The problem is, they don't know exactly who all of them are.

"I don't want to label them as a particular group," said Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan. "We are calling them anarchists...people who want to start trouble regardless of the situation, whether it's peaceful or not."

Peaceful occupiers met on Thursday to discuss how they can kick out the so-called anarchists out of their movement. They said last night's violence was a wake-up call that they need to become more organized.

Quan noted that many of the demonstrators at the camp helped calm things down. Quan said her staff communicated with demonstrators via Twitter.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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