October 26th, 2011

My Occupy Oakland observations

I posted this to a private mailing list this morning, then decided I wanted to send it to a wider audience.

Warning: long.

My account is only partially first-hand. I live in Oakland, about half a mile from where the protests were happening.

I learned about the mess at about 7 p.m. when I was still at my office. I found a live video feed while the group was at Lake Merritt, and watched them vote on whether to march to Jack London Square (where I live), or back to 14th and Broadway (where they had been camping.) 14th and Broadway won by a huge margin, so I hopped in my car and dashed home in case they changed their minds later.

When I got close to home I checked the location of the several helicopters that were hovering in order to verify that the coast was clear. It was-- the protesters stayed downtown.

ABC7 news had a helicopter up for most of the night, and they broadcast live video while they were up. Additionally, a few different citizen journalists broadcast live video of the event through much of the evening. I also closely followed what people were tweeting throughout the evening by following the #occupyoakland tag on Twitter. I went up to my building's roof a few times to check on helicopter count and location.

I've lived in Oakland for almost ten years now. I've seen protests turn into riots. I've seen violence and destruction when angry crowds turn into mobs. When I look at it from this perspective, I understand why the OPD was on very high alert last night. I can see why they would fear that things would turn ugly.

As far as I have been able to tell, the protesters were peaceful. It's almost certain that a couple of bad apples existed, and that the occasional water bottle was thrown, but the people who were there discouraged that and strongly condemned the bad actors for such things.

I saw live video of police using large amounts of tear gas-- enough that it was impossible to see through it on the video. I saw video of multiple journalists being tear gassed, and at least one journalist was deliberately knocked to the ground by OPD. I saw photos of several protesters who were wounded either by rubber bullets or bean bags. Although the police claim they were not using rubber bullets, I saw photos where people had picked them up from the ground. I saw what were almost certainly flash bang grenades going off, although OPD denies that they were used.

The most horrifying video that I saw was this: police tear gassed the crowd. People ran, as expected. One person fell to the ground, apparently injured, and several people ran back to help them. While they were attempting to assist the fallen individual, a grenade was deliberately thrown and landed right by the victim's head. The victim is now in intensive care.

Oh, look, BoingBoing just posted a video of it:

http://boingboing.net/2011/10/26/occupy-oakland-video-shows-police-officer-thro wing-flash-grenade-into-crowd-trying-to-help-injured-protester.html

I am appalled and disgusted with my city's police force and government.

This morning I had to go to Chase bank in downtown Oakland, which is about six blocks away from where the protesters were centered. Chase is one of the two banks in NY that had people arrested when they came in to close their accounts en masse. Both of the ATMs at this branch were smashed last night:


There are several other banks within a one-block radius of this Chase branch. None of the others were damaged in any way. I do not condone destruction of property. This was not a violent, destructive "mob", and this is the only property damage that I have heard of as a result of last night's protests. At least once, I saw the protesters sit down in the middle of the intersection to have a meditation circle. That's about as far from violent as you can get.