The Oakland police and #OccupyOakland.

Occupy Oakland, Tuesday night.

I’m on record as being of at least two minds, if not six or seven, regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I remain ambivalent – confident in my support of many of the individual goals, rather less confident in many of the tactics the movement employs.

And as I’ve said in various places: Nonviolent civil disobedience is disobedience. Complaining about arrest (let’s be honest: whining about arrest) when you’ve been breaking city ordinances for days or weeks on end in order to make a socio-political point is not only disingenuous, it’s self-defeating. Arrests are, in no small part, the point of civil disobedience.

And yet, having said that: Last night the Oakland Police Department came down like a fist on Occupy Oakland, greeting the nonviolent protesters in riot gear (translation: spoiling for a fight), ultimately unleashing tear gas, projectiles euphemistically known as “bean bags” and flash grenades (also known as “flash-bangs,” if I understand correctly).

The rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are enshrined in our Constitution; the right to endlessly “occupy” public property, thus rendering it useless to other members of the public and/or creating health and sanitation issues, is not. The latter does not negate the former, however. Arrests are reasonable when people refuse to leave public property. Creating the kind of mayhem that can be seen in the following photographs is not.





I cannot conceive of a better way for the Oakland Police Department to increase support for the Occupy movement.

I’m the first to say that this movement shouldn’t be compared to the revolutions in the Middle East or the Palestinian resistance, not least because the Occupy folks have the right to vote, haven’t been tortured, aren’t facing live fire, and need not fear that having their picture taken might result in summary execution. These differences matter, and the problems America faces are big enough without having to engage in blatant disrespect for the struggles of others.

But another reason that Occupy Oakland (or Wall Street, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or wherever) isn’t Tahrir Square is because Americans have every right in the world to feel genuine shock at being met with tear gas and “bean bags” on their streets.

If the Oakland Police Department’s goal was “not as bad as the Middle East,” well then, I guess they succeeded. Well done and kudos! But I was rather of the opinion that the goal was something more along the lines of “maintain American norms and values and act in concert, however imperfectly, to perfect our union.”

I’m on record as saying that I probably won’t join the protests for a variety of reasons, at least one of which is very personal.

But you know what? If I lived in Oakland, I have a feeling I wouldn’t be blogging right now. I have a feeling I’d be making a sign, and packing a few onions in my bag.

The Palestinians say that when you get hit with tear gas, you should hold an onion to your nose.

Photographs via BuzzFeed; to see more, click here.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.


  1. compare and contrast with police/politician reax to Occupy Albany:

  2. David L

     /  October 26, 2011

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure that you’re going to see many unbiased reports about what went on. Apparently, Oakland PD ordered the media out of the area before they moved in and then ordered the news choppers out as well when they started getting resistance.

    I have never in my life seen an institution in this country so blatantly insistent on having public accounts of an event come down to “Who are you going to believe, us or the rabblerousing scum?”

  3. baiskeli

     /  October 26, 2011

    Or an Iraqi War Vet getting critically injured by police for the crime of protesting

    Oakland Police Critically Injure Iraq War Vet During Occupy March

    Shot in the face by a police projectile.

    And I read this after reading this really piss me off article (good article, but this is why people hate big banks) right after I read the Bank of America CEO was whining that BOA doesn’t get credit for all the good stuff it does

    Suit alleges banks and mortgage companies cheated veterans and U.S. taxpayers

    I’m f u c k i n g sick of Animal Farm justice, where the rich have a different justice system from the common person. I want to see CEO’s and high level bankers in orange jumpsuits. I want to see cops hauled up in front of court for abuse of power and assault. I want to see their bosses fired and out without their pensions.

    I was rather apathetic about the Occupy movement (I supported them, but didn’t feel any real sense of urgency). That has changed over the last couple of weeks, starting with the hit and run tear-gassing by NY cops.

  4. baiskeli

     /  October 26, 2011

    Can you edit my post to remove the curse word if cursing is not allowed here?

  5. 1. “I cannot conceive of a better way for the Oakland Police Department to increase support for the Occupy movement.” — I might have said the same thing elsewhere. The OWS people are inchoate, but nothing helps focus a movement like resistance. OPD just guaranteed Round Two. (This is irrespective of whether I think OWS is smart or right.)

    2. It appears as if some things are off the rails. As you point out, we are not under the same fear as those in oppressed countries – but we are more shocked when this type of stupid reaction occurs because we are more capable of absorbing dissent. Really, I think about this – a park is “occupied.” I don’t know if there were terrible things going on; I suppose if I google’d I’d find something nefarious. But ISTM that it’s mostly harmless (and nearly ineffective) dissent. We don’t have police come cracking skulls for simply unwanted behavior – and if we get to that point where the police need to stop people from being annoying, then something is seriously wrong.

    3. All this to say that simple swearing isn’t that bad compared to what’s going on. Fire away, Mr. B.

  6. First, let me say, that the perception that Occupy Wall Street is some kind of movement is over-stating things. This is not a demonstration as seen in the Sixties; this is reminiscent of the Hoovervilles that sprang up at the beginning of The Great Depression. These people are a living expression of the damage done to the American way of life by corporate greed and government malaise. They represent the detritus left behind in the wake of Wall Street’s incessant need for higher and greater profit. The are exemplars of citizens who, pursuant to the tenets of The American Dream, went about trying to build better lives in the way they were taught, only to find out that the rules of the game had been altered and they were never told.

    These gatherings have been, almost exclusively, peaceful. Despite being ignored, lampooned, or skewered by “the media,” despite the ambivalence and/or overreaction of city government, despite tribulations aplenty, these people have stuck it out, in order to make society face facts: this isn’t going away. The bulk of American citizenry is either destitute, verging on destitution, hanging on by its fingernails, or watching their assets slowly, inexorably be drained away, even as forces in Washington, D.C. seek to dismantle the safety nets which might be their last hope until the crisis breaks. Occupy Wall Street is saying: this is what we have created… what are we going to do about it?

    Those people in Oakland were treated brutally, with malice, attacked as if they were a mob wielding pitchforks, shotguns, and rolling cannons through the street to breach the walls of City Hall. This is not how the American system of government and justice is supposed to operate. Citizens are allowed to ask for redress of their grievances before the government that they imbue with its power. That have a right to have their grievances heard and to await a suitable reply. Oakland chose a coward’s answer, treating them less like citizens and more like terrorists, because that is de rigueur in these times. And the mayor of Oakland chose to pat her police chief on the back for his brutality.

    There can be no comparison with other movements around the world; to do so is to miss the point and to water down the message. While other nations struggle to have the choices of democracy that we take for granted, we have to struggle to retake control of a system that was handed to us in good faith over two hundred years ago, by Founding Fathers who thought our nation was up to the task of maintaining governance of, by, and for the people. This moment, these protests, these actions, show us how far the fruit of the tree of liberty has fallen, and, sadly, it is much too far to be tolerable.

  7. theravenspoke

     /  October 27, 2011

    According to wiki, citing the 2010 census, Oakland is about one-third white. Oakland is one of 38 cities with population between 250,000 and 500,000 that participates in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. UCR data points to broad reasons why the OPD might feel “embattled” and prone to lash out:

    * Oakland has 1.65 uniformed officers per 1,000 residents, 19% below average for comparable cities.
    * Oakland logs 9.7 violent crime cases per officer, per year vs. only 3.7 new cases per officer across comparable cities.
    * Oakland reported 26 property crime cases per officer, per year, about 25% more than the comparable city average.
    * The prevalence of violent crime, measured by number of reported cases per 1,000 inhabitants, is 2.5-times greater than the comparable city average (property crime prevalence is spot-on average).

    Taking an insular viewpoint, the OPD has objective evidence that they’re understaffed and overworked, facing a largely minority population with a propensity to complain about crime (because there’s a lot of it). This must breed tons of frustration.

    One way to interpret OPD actions towards OWS is to view a public gathering of white people as a proxy target. If the the OPD cracked down on white people, they’d send a message to the other two-thirds of the city. This is, the two-thirds that “causes” most reported crime, and then “complains” about it.

    A “whiny” bunch of college-educated white people then empowers reactionary thinking. Instead of considering all that might go wrong, such as the critical wounding of a two-tour veteran of the Iraq conflict, a seemingly rational process sanctions removal of the press and use of excessive force against a crowd that posed no threat to anyone.

    This is a classic failure of leadership. The OPD command structure works fine, evidenced by front-line diligence in following orders. The OPD needs vision and community outreach, not opportunistic displays of physical force. Otherwise, Oakland will fall into a downward spiral of rising crime, as its citizens lose all faith in the OPD’s ability to serve and protect.

  8. Neocortex

     /  October 27, 2011

    To make a point that I also made at TNC’s place: At least at my Occupy, we’ve been having regular civil disobedience trainings (and our encampment was set up in the park that it was, with the agreement beforehand of the city). I would be rather surprised if at least some other Occupys aren’t doing the same.

  9. aaron singer

     /  October 27, 2011

    My local news station here in Chicago had a story on anti-Semitism among the Occupy movements.

    I was rather disgusted that their ‘evidence’ came from a Republican pro-Israel group and the Republican National Committee itself–I didn’t realize that the job of local news stations was to promote party propaganda. I was absolutely disgusted with this story. Obviously any movement like OWS will have it’s share of crazies, but the story made it seemed like it was a growing problem of menace.

    When I saw it I wondered what you and others would think.

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