Occupy movement split over confrontational tactics

OAKLAND, California Wed Feb 1, 2012 9:51am EST

A group of police officers from various law enforcement agencies arrest an Occupy Oakland demonstrator near Frank H. Ogawa Plaza during a day-long protest in Oakland, California January 28, 2012. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

A group of police officers from various law enforcement agencies arrest an Occupy Oakland demonstrator near Frank H. Ogawa Plaza during a day-long protest in Oakland, California January 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

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OAKLAND, California (Reuters) - When anti-Wall Street protesters set out to take over Oakland's shuttered convention center on Saturday, they left no doubt about the reception they expected. Scores concealed their faces with bandanas, and dozens carried shields, some painted with anarchist symbols.

What happened next -- a 10-hour street battle in which demonstrators and police pelted each other with tear gas canisters, smoke grenades and other projectiles -- has intensified a debate within the Occupy Wall Street movement over what forms of confrontation it should embrace.

Activists calling for greater equality in income and tighter regulation of financial institutions have clashed with police across the country since September, usually while advocating non-violence. But a series of conflicts with police in Oakland have stood out as the most violent, with one activist, Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, suffering a brain injury on October 25.

Protesters on Saturday said they were trying to establish a new headquarters and community center to take the place of the tent camp police dismantled at Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall last fall. Police lined up on street corners and in front of the convention center to thwart the would-be occupiers.

Objects began flying through the air as soon as demonstrators tore down a section of chain-link fence in front of the building.

"Of all the (anti-Wall Street) marches and rallies in the city of Oakland, this has been the most violent and hostile to the police," said Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Johnna Watson.

Some 400 protesters were arrested, and several police officers and demonstrators were injured.

"While we respect every citizen's right to protest peacefully, we will not tolerate individuals who come to Oakland with an organized strategy to riot, clash with police officers, vandalize property and wreak havoc upon the city," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said in a statement.

Demonstrators accused the police of beating them with batons and of trapping them between police lines, then arresting them for supposedly disobeying orders to disperse.

People in the San Francisco Bay Area appeared to be turned off by Occupy's tactics on Saturday, according to an opinion poll by SurveyUSA.

Of 500 people surveyed on Sunday, 26 percent said they had once supported the Occupy movement and now do not. Added to 31 percent who said they always opposed the movement, the poll suggests a majority of public opinion opposes the group.

Some leaders within the movement were distancing themselves from tactics employed by fellow occupiers on Saturday.

"A lot of conversation is coming out of that, a lot of self-reflection," said Nichola Torbett, a self-described devout Christian who took part in the first Occupy Oakland organizing meetings in September.

Torbett said she has participated in nearly every major Occupy Oakland event and was arrested when police cleared out a protest encampment on November 15. But she stayed away from the march on Saturday.

"It was organized by a very militant anarchist segment of the movement," she said. "I support the idea of taking a building, especially for housing those who don't have housing. But I don't support it with the kind of triumphal attitude I saw expressed."

In November, following a day of mostly peaceful Occupy Oakland rallies that gave way to a night of unrest and over 100 arrests, some activists joined city officials in blaming small bands of agitators who they said provoked police.

Mike King, an organizer of the movement's effort to shut down West Coast ports on December 12, stayed away on Saturday because of "personal obligations."

He defended the demonstrators' attempt to take over a building but said he prefers to devote his energy to building relationships with labor leaders.

Without condemning the attempt to occupy the convention center, labor leaders kept a low profile during the demonstration and its aftermath.

Representatives for the Service Employees International Union, which helped organize Occupy rallies in a number of cities, did not return repeated calls seeking comment, nor did the Alameda Labor Council nor the California Teachers Association.

The California Nurses Association, which has staffed medical stations during previous Occupy Oakland marches, had no official presence at the demonstration Saturday, said spokesman Chuck Idelson. "We don't support violence no matter who is doing it," he said.

Still, many occupiers defend Saturday's action. Shake Anderson, who took part in the march, acknowledged, "it could have been better organized" but insisted the goal was worthy.

City officials are unable or unwilling to help the homeless, hungry and unemployed, he said. Occupy Oakland was meeting those needs in its camp at Frank Ogawa Plaza until it was evicted by the police, he said.

"We need a space so we can feed each other and educate each other," he said. "Let us have our big house and leave us alone."

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Daniel Trotta)

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Comments (4)
I’m pretty skeptical of any story about Occupy which is run in the mainstream media, especially when it includes NO quotes from anyone who was actually at the protest. This article looks more like an example of “push polling” than legitimate news. There is no question that this movement is large enough to attract participants with diverse strategies and goals, just as their were both peaceful and militant constituents in the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement, etc. However, there is also no question that this is an extreme minority and that the majority of escalations in these protests have been incited by the police, who have opened with militant force. How do we know? Because there are thousands of video recordings and eye-witness sightings available for anyone who wishes to have any non-filtered reporting. OPD has been hostile and aggressive from the start – it is curious that in this article, no mention is made of their own violations of OPD policy with regard to crowd management, its long history of lethal or inappropriate response, or any facts about the culture and history (recent) of OPD which would draw into question where the violence is really coming from. I also like how the OPD has classified protesters as somehow outsiders who have “come to the city”; when she speaks to people’s right to protest being honored, she fails to mention how, then, they have justified their actions thus far, including forcefully removing protesters from a site – repeatedly – and herding/blocking protesters so that they could not disperse when the police started attacking the crowd, ensuring maximum risk to everyone. Ultimately, any PD which tries to justify attacking an entire crowd EVEN IF a couple of people in it are throwing rocks – when the police are dressed in full soldier attire, replete with tear gas, various forms of distance weapons, including guns….well, that’s an epic fail on their ability and approach.

Feb 01, 2012 10:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
TDebley wrote:
As a resident of Oakland, California I have been 110% in support of the Occupy movement. I still am, but I count myself now among those who have abandoned any support of so-called “Occupy Oakland.” It clearly has been hijacked by the same old anarchist hooligans we’ve been familiar with for decades on the streets of the SF Bay Area. They do not deserve support for doing nothing more than tarnishing the Occupy movement’s name by co-opting it for their tiresome ruffian tactics as they’ve done over and over again with liberal movements.

Feb 01, 2012 11:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
GaronArcher wrote:
This is just a disgusting attempt to divide and conquer by the fascist! They attempt to take the movement apart with this, HELL NO! We are all comrades, peaceful, violent, on all levels we are the people and we will win! Viva la REVOLUTION!

Feb 01, 2012 11:37am EST  --  Report as abuse
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