On Tuesday evening, more than 400 riot police from Oakland and nearby cities attempted to evict protesters at “Occupy Oakland” from the city’s Frank Ogawa Plaza and Snow Park. The justification was twofold: The protesters had not been granted a permit to demonstrate in, let alone colonize, the park, and reports had been filed with the police of sexual assault, violence, vandalism, and open fires.
As the police approached, protesters formed “non-violent barricades” to prevent the police’s legitimate eviction action and, predictably, violent clashes ensued. The police report that protesters hurled rocks, bottles, and M-80 firecrackers at them, while the police responded with tear gas and, sparingly, rubber bullets and beanbag shotgun rounds. More than 100 protesters were arrested. Few injuries have been confirmed, with the tragic exception of a Marine veteran who was seriously injured when struck by a tear-gas canister (most “non-lethal” tactics carry such a risk).
Most of the outrage has been in reaction to video proffered as evidence of aggressive and unnecessary force on the part of the police, including the use of “flashbang” grenades, as this video confidently asserts. The police have denied this, asserting that the explosions came from either tear-gas canisters or firecrackers thrown by the protesters. Indeed, the video clearly demonstrates that the small explosion could not be a “flashbang” — which would have stunned and immobilized the protesters standing next to it when it exploded — but is in fact a tear-gas canister (note the gas).
The police succeeded in clearing out the park, after which city workers diligently cleaned the area. Protesters returned yesterday, after having someone else clean up their mess.
The injuries are lamentable, of course, but we are hardly witnessing scenes of excessive violence and oppression — merely enforcement of standard bylaws regarding protests (this is not to deny that accidents happen and police make mistakes – as one NYPD officer did with unnecessary use of pepper spray). Unfortunately, media coverage of the worldwide “Occupy” movement has seized upon the pepper-spray incident and now the clashes at Occupy Oakland (which involves an absurdly small number of protesters — “several hundred at peak hours,” presumably far fewer are actually spending the night).
In a movement that seems more focused on attracting attention than gaining real political victories, protesters may conclude that direct action and confrontation will be their best hope for relevance — especially as numbers dwindle into the winter. Such a development would be deleterious for protesters, police, and America.