As we reported last night, on January 28 members of Occupy Oakland attempted to occupy the vacant and disused Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The result was tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests in the hundreds, and a short-lived occupation of Oakland City Hall. Eyewitness reports are beginning to filter in.
Very soon after the protesters arrived at the Kaiser Center, the police fired tear gas into the crowd. Those of us standing two blocks away could taste it. Later, when I spoke to people who had been at the front, everyone said they Occupiers had done nothing to provoke the tear gas other than arriving at the building.
The police had effectively made it impossible for the Occupiers to carry out their plan, so the protesters moved on. A few blocks away a standoff occurred. The police fired many things into the crowd; some thought it was tear gas, some thought it was pepper spray bombs. Also, I believe this was when they fired some bean bag shots at the crowd, later I met one man who had been hit.
On Saturday, Occupy Oakland re-entered the national spotlight during a day-long effort to take over an empty building and transform it into a social center. Oakland police thwarted the efforts, arresting more than 400 people in the process, primarily during a mass nighttime arrest outside a downtown YMCA. That number included at least six journalists, myself included, in direct violation of OPD media relations policy that states “media shall never be targeted for dispersal or enforcement action because of their status.”
After an unsuccessful afternoon effort to occupy a former convention center, the more than 1,000 protesters elected to return to the site of their former encampment outside city hall. On the way, they clashed with officers, advancing down a street with makeshift shields of corrogated metal and throwing objects at a police line. Officers responded with smoke grenades, tear gas, and bean bag projectiles. After protesters regrouped, they marched through downtown as police pursued and eventually contained a few hundred of them in an enclosed space outside a YMCA. Some entered the gym and were arrested inside.
As soon as it became clear that I would be kettled with the protesters, I displayed my press credentials to a line of officers and asked where to stand to avoid arrest. In past protests, the technique always proved successful. But this time, no officer said a word. One pointed back in the direction of the protesters, refusing to let me leave. Another issued a notice that everyone in the area was under arrest.
Solidarity marches are planned in many Occupy locations around the nation.
[This action did not proceed with the approval of Occupy Oakland's GA and was undertaken by an independent group. --ed]