The city of Oakland, California finally had its fill of the Occupy Wall Street rabble last night, and decided to clean out their camp sites. The mayor, Jean Quan, released a statement Tuesday morning that was almost painfully deferential to the people she finally got around to booting off public land:
Many Oaklanders support the goals of the national Occupy Wall Street movement. We maintained daily communication with the protest0rs in Oakland.
However, over the last week it was apparent that neither the demonstrators nor the City could maintain safe or sanitary conditions, or control the ongoing vandalism. Frank Ogawa Plaza will continue to be open as a free speech area from 6 am to 10 pm.
We want to thank the police, fire, public works and other employees who worked over the last week to peacefully close the encampment. We also thank the majority of the protestors who peacefully complied with city officials.
There was a lot more than “vandalism” going on at these camps, as the Associated Press reports:
City officials had originally been supportive of protesters, with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan saying that sometimes “democracy is messy.”
But the city later warned the protesters that they were breaking the law and couldn’t stay in the encampment overnight. They cited concerns about rats, fire hazards, public urination and acts of violence at the site, which had grown to more than 150 tents and included areas for health care, child care and cooking.
[…] There were reports of a sex assault and a severe beating and fire and paramedics were denied access to the camp, according to city officials, who said they had also received numerous complaints of intimidating and threatening behavior.
(Emphases mine.) Quan was premature in offering those thanks for “peaceful compliance,” because the occupiers decided to show police what “occupy” means… and it has nothing to do with returning public spaces to people who disagree with their political demands. The Associated Press describes the scene:
Under cover of darkness early Tuesday, hundreds of police swept into Oakland’s Occupy Wall Street protest, firing tear gas and beanbag rounds before clearing out an encampment of demonstrators.
In less than an hour, the two-week-old, miniature makeshift city was in ruins.
Scattered across the area were overturned tents, pillows, sleeping bags, yoga mats, tarps, backpacks, food wrappers and water bottles. Signs decrying corporations and police still hung from lampposts or lay on the ground.
Protesters had stayed awake through the night, waiting for the expected raid. Officers and sheriff’s deputies from across the San Francisco Bay area surrounded the plaza in front of City Hall at around 5 a.m. and closed in. Eighty-five people were arrested, mostly on suspicion of misdemeanor unlawful assembly and illegal camping, police said.
That’s a rather sanitized account of what happened. For a more thorough narrative of the evening’s festivities, we turn to “Zombie,” blogging at Pajamas Media, who provides a copiously annotated and illustrated look at the wee hours of an exciting Tuesday night in Oakland:
What we know so far: After the Occupy Oakland encampment was torn down early Tuesday morning by police, the ousted protesters reconvened outside the Oakland Library on Tuesday afternoon and voted to attempt a re-occupation of the same plaza from which they had just been evicted. Summoned by waves of emergency tweets and emails, fresh recruits joined the evicted Occupiers and early this evening once again marched on downtown Oakland, intending to reclaim Frank Ogawa Plaza.
But the Oakland Police were of course monitoring all this, and along with many other local police departments they were waiting for the protesters’ invasion. After an hours-long standoff at 14th and Broadway, interrupted by several confrontations and arrests, everything started to turn violent some time after 9:30pm.
The Occupy Oakland thugs were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbag guns, and (maybe) flash-bang grenades, as you can see from one of the many video clips Zombie highlights:
The rioters chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they marched, although police and the law-abiding citizens of Oakland begged to differ. According to the Oakland Tribune, they fought back against police by throwing rocks, bottles, and fireworks at police, having issued an earlier call via Twitter for demonstrators to “bring bottles.” Authorities say the fireworks thrown by protesters were responsible for the flashes some observers believe were caused by police flash-bang grenades.
Charmingly, the Occupy crowd had “formally” renamed the plaza where they were camping after Oscar Grant, an unarmed man killed by police in 2009. That doesn’t sound like the sort of thing a group of peace-loving citizens would do while fostering an attitude of cooperation with lawful authorities, although it is consistent with the historic behavior of occupying forces.
In the end, somewhere between 75 and 85 people were arrested, according to various press reports. I haven’t seen a single mainstream media account that accurately described the scene. They generally note the number of arrests, and perhaps mention that tear gas and beanbag guns were used, but give the impression that it was something less than the full-blown violent street riot Zombie described and documented. Very few national media accounts mention that the Occupy Oakland mob launched a counter-attack and tried to take their camp back from police. For example, here’s the CBS News report:
Oakland police say they arrested 75 people while clearing an anti-Wall Street protest in front of City Hall that had grown into an encampment with dozens of tents.
Most of the people arrested were taken into custody on suspicion of misdemeanor illegal lodging, as police raided the encampment around 5 a.m. Tuesday.
Interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said at a news conference later in the morning that hundreds of officers and sheriff’s deputies from more than 12 agencies moved in on about 170 protesters.
He said police fired beanbag rounds and tear gas, but no one was injured. Television news footage showed protesters being taken away in plastic cuffs without incident, although an officer did fire a non-lethal projectile from a shotgun at a protester who lobbed a bottle, authorities told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Ten paragraphs down, CBS mentions that “witnesses reported seeing smoke rising from the area,” after citing a newspaper report that “several hundred people appeared ready to defend the camp about an hour before police moved in.”
CNN does a little better, but still leaves out an awful lot of details:
Authorities made a series of arrests at Occupy Wall Street protests in California and Georgia on Tuesday with clashes in one city that involved tear gas being used on demonstrators.
Police said they fired the tear gas on protesters in Oakland, California, after the crowd threw paint and other objects at officers.
The crowd of about 500 people defied calls to leave an area of downtown Oakland on Tuesday, according to police. Protesters had camped for weeks in several areas in the city, including near City Hall, police said.
16 paragraphs down, after spending much more time noting the police dispersal of Occupy Atlanta (which was also fairly eventful, as it resulted in 53 arrests), CNN blandly notes that “video from the Oakland clashes showed a chaotic scene, with protesters running from clouds of tear gas.”
MSNBC actually makes their story more about the Occupy Atlanta dispersal. Eventually they get around to mentioning Oakland, which they describe as follows:
But while the arrests in Atlanta appeared to be peaceful, in Oakland, Calif., police shot multiple rounds of tear gas in response to rock throwing from some of the demonstrators who had gathered there, authorities said.
The latest skirmish came around 11:15 PDT in front of City Hall, where a haze of chemical smoke still hung in the air. Earlier in the evening, the crowd numbered around 1,000, according to SFGate.com.
Later in the report, MSNBC does mention the attempt to retake the park, and the violent resistance to police, which they describe as “several small skirmishes” that just sort of happened here and there:
The scene has repeated itself several times since. But each time officers move to disperse the crowd, protesters quickly gather again in assemblies that authorities have declared illegal. Tensions rise as protesters edge closer to police line and climax when someone throws a bottle or rock and authorities response with volleys of gas.
I’ve rarely seen the media fight so hard to avoid simply and accurately reporting a massive event that has been copiously documented on video. Liberal reporters love to compare the Occupy movement to the Tea Party. If the Tea Party had ever launched a violent riot in a city, you would still be hearing about it. You most certainly would not have spent the next morning reading sanitized accounts which struggled to call it anything but a riot.