HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 26 (IPS) — As the sun came up over Oakland City Hall Wednesday, Mike Porter, 24, was standing behind police barricades, watching a public works crew power wash the plaza that had been home to some 200 participants in the Occupy Oakland movement.
Police raided the camp early Tuesday morning, tore down the tents and arrested more than 100 people. Porter was among them.
The young man said he had been on watch at the camp at around 2:30 a.m. and saw police massing around the square, which activists had renamed Oscar Grant Plaza to honor the man subway police killed in 2009.
By around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, “There were literally at least 500 cops shoulder to shoulder” surrounding the plaza, Porter said. “Then they slowly started closing in. We stood our ground doing chants and locked arms. They threw a flash-bang [grenade] which landed right on top of a tarp. As I looked back I saw someone crawling out of that tarp…. ”
Porter was arrested and released on his own recognizance Tuesday night. “It’s a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars, seeing as how it was a peaceful gathering,” he said.
The Occupy Oakland encampment is just one of hundreds that have sprung up around the country in recent weeks to protest rising poverty and income inequality in the U.S.
At a press conference Tuesday, police denied using flash-bang grenades. “The loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at police by protesters,” they said.
Police further said that they used tear gas to defend against protesters who threw glass bottles, rocks, pots, and kitchen utensils at them.
However, a video taken by a local radio reporter shows a flash-bang grenade detonating in the crowd. One protester, Scott Olsen, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, was badly wounded in the raid. The group said in a statement that Olsen “sustained a skull fracture after being shot in the head with a police projectile while peacefully participating in an Occupy Oakland march.”
The city had put the protesters on notice, saying the camp was infested with rats and that there were problems with sanitation, drunkenness and that there had been an assault. Protesters responded by further cleaning the site and instituting self-policing. They told IPS that the rats had been there long before they were and that, while not tolerating anti-social behavior, that it is part of any urban social context.
Like Porter, Max Bell Alper, whose parents’ and uncle’s homes were foreclosed on, also spent most of Tuesday in jail. He said that after the police surrounded the camp, he complied with an officer’s demand that he move.
He said, however, when he asked for the officer’s name, “Three cops grabbed me; folks on our side grabbed me and pulled me back. And that’s when dozens of police officers came in swinging batons at us.”
Alper pulled up his shirt sleeve to show the two-inch bruise on his arm where he said he’d been hit by a police baton.
The arrests and destruction of the camp didn’t deter the activists. Five hundred to 1,000 people regrouped Tuesday afternoon on the steps of the downtown library and in the street in front of it.
“At a meeting of a general assembly of Occupy Oakland, we recognize that our ability to occupy that space comes not from the benevolence of the police, but from our collective power as a community,” one speaker said, as the crowd cheered.
Another speaker was on a cell phone call to the National Lawyers Guild, which is serving as the arrestees’ legal team. She listed the charges arrested protesters were facing: remaining on the scene of a riot, illegal lodging, resisting arrest and battery on an officer.
She further reported that the National Lawyers Guild “says there was a massive amount of excessive force that was used ” and that there were two people jailed with broken hands and one hospitalized with a head injury.
The crowd marched back toward the barricaded plaza, where police arrested another 100 people. Occupy Oakland will regroup Wednesday evening for a general assembly and decide on next steps.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said a young man who identified himself as “E”, sitting on the street near the plaza behind the police barricade Wednesday morning. “We’re going to wait them out,” he said.
His friend “D”, who had been arrested Tuesday morning, added: “This is not going to stop us; it’s only going to fuel the fire.”