The Corner

Occupy Oakland’s Violence: Not Just A Fringe

The New York Times continues to act as a credulous and sympathetic megaphone for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Take the latest report by the Times on the violent vandalism of Occupy Oakland, headlined “Oakland Police Clash with Fringe Protesters.” Occupy Oakland’s leaders are trying to disassociate the movement from the violence of a supposed fringe. The Times article helps them by continually stressing tensions between the bulk of demonstrators and the violent “fringe.” But the gap between the purveyors of violence and the heart of the movement is far smaller than it appears.

The Times, for example, quotes a peaceful protester screaming at a violent vandal, “The police are not your enemy!” Yet a moment later the Times quotes Boots Riley, the man who has emerged as the most prominent de facto leader of Occupy Oakland. Riley chides the vandals with, “what we did during the day [i.e. shut down the port] was much bigger, much more disruptive, than what the people breaking windows did last night.” From the sound of it, Riley’s disagreement with the vandals is strictly tactical in nature.

In fact, Riley, a political rapper who has been widely quoted by the press opposing violence, arguably bears some responsibility for the violence of his fellow protesters. Michelle Malkin has already quoted from Riley song, “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO.” (Lyrics in full here.)  It’s less known that Riley performed the song for an Occupy Oakland rally just before strike day. (See his performance here.) So how exactly do you pump up the crowd for the big general strike with “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” then disassociate yourself from the violence that follows?

And what about that peaceful protester who screamed: “The police are not your enemy!” Does Riley really agree with him? Riley is actually famous for his anti-police raps, so much so that it’s the one topic where he and his radical father (a lawyer known for defending the Black Panthers) part ways. Riley’s “My Favorite Mutiny” (lyrics here) features lines like “Death to the pigs is my basic statement.” At points the song sounds almost like a description of the face-off between the police and the anarchists in Oakland the other day. Riley’s become a leader of Occupy Oakland precisely because he’s a poet of violent revolution, not in spite of that fact. Can his merely temporary and tactical backtracking absolve him, and the movement that has propelled him to prominence, from responsibility for those who take his well-publicized convictions seriously?

Riley himself has described the general strike as “just a warning . . . like us flashing our guns . . .” Just before the general strike, he advised the police to “get out of the way.” “If you want to prove that you’re sincere in thinking that you’re part of the 99 percent, stand down” says Riley, “Let us do what we want. Show us that you are not just merely here to protect the status quo.” So while Riley agrees, for now anyway, that breaking windows and throwing bottles is a bad idea, he hardly comes off as a supporter of law and order.

Riley isn’t alone. This article from the San Francisco Chronicle makes it clear that a number of Occupy Oakland protesters do in fact support or condone the violent protests, while others believe in forcibly shutting businesses down, even if nonviolently. This article from the Washington Post, reports on efforts by the Occupy Oakland media committee to distance the movement from violence committed by an “autonomous” group. Read carefully, however, the media committee’s statement actually endorses the break-in and take-over of an abandoned building that was the immediate prelude to the other violence. That’s a mighty fine line to draw. You can break into a building you don’t own and take it over, but you shouldn’t break windows in up-and-running businesses, deface buildings, or set fires. Obviously, Occupy Oakland has no respect for the law, but only for the dangers of crossing a tactical line that might get it into political trouble. (See Rich Lowry today on the movement’s lawlessness.)

Even Occupy Oakland’s media committee can’t keep its story straight. The committee fell into a public argument when one member claimed that Occupy Oakland had contacted the mayor’s office to disavow the violence. Another member quickly contradicted this, on the grounds that Occupy Oakland would in no case cooperate with the mayor or city government. This indeed is a lawless attitude, barely removed from the violence supposedly being disavowed.

Will the media continue to swallow Occupy Oakland’s efforts to distance itself from the violence, or will it apply even a modicum of skepticism? However that may be, intelligent people don’t need to wait for the media to say it. The fact is, the violence of Occupy Oakland is part and parcel of a broader lawless attitude held by protesters who see themselves opposed to, and living outside of, the American system.

“DEATH TO CAPITALISM” read one of Occupy Oakland’s huge banners during the strike. That nicely encapsulates things. Why should violence from folks like this be a surprise?


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