At least a dozen anti-war protesters and six longshoremen were injured Monday morning when Oakland police fired wooden dowels, bean bags and other less lethal weapons at a group picketing at the Oakland port.
More than 500 protesters gathered around 6 a.m. at the entrances to APL and Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), two shipping corporations that have military-related U.S. government contracts. Protesters said APL, an Oakland-based company, ships military cargo to Iraq. Seattle-based SSA won a $4.8 million contract last month to handle the aid cargo arriving at the Umm Qasr seaport in Iraq.
Anti-war activists said Monday’s demonstration was aimed at highlighting the connection between corporate profits and the U.S. war in Iraq. It was held concurrently with demonstrations at the Concord Naval Weapons Station and in San Francisco, where demonstrators picketed in front of the federal building and blocked an off-ramp from Interstate 280.
Most of the injured were shot in the back of the body and treated for bruises and lacerations. At least one protester was hit in the face.
Monday’s demonstration was the culmination of four days of anti-war action held around the nation and came on the heels of Saturday’s rally and march in Berkeley and Oakland, during which 9,000 people protested without conflict with police.
Danielle Ashford, spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department, said police officers on Monday opened fire on protesters after warning them to disperse. She said most protesters heeded the command; those who did not, however, were fired on with what she called “less lethal weapons,” including wooden “bullets,” bags filled with small metal balls, and sting balls, which disperse rubber bullets and a minuscule amount of tear gas.
Ashford said police force was necessary because protesters refused to disperse and were throwing rocks, metal bolts and small pieces of wood at officers. She added that many protesters climbed on trucks attempting to enter the port gate.
“There is a difference between a peaceful protest on Saturday and this one,” she said. “This was a direct action to deliberately shut down the port.”
Protesters said the show of force was unprovoked and unnecessary. They said rifle-wielding police in riot gear and motorcycle officers began closing in on them at the SSA gate entrance, blocking off certain points of exit and directing them down Maritime Street toward Seventh Street.
Oakland resident Cyprus Gonzalez was shot on the right side of his back while chanting with other protesters. “I think there may have been an announcement, but it was hard to hear with the chanting,” he said. “Immediately after they started firing, I started to leave, and then they shot me in the back really close up. People were getting shot at the beginning at SSA.”
Michael Reagan, a Berkeley resident and Vista student, said he didn’t see any protesters throwing rocks. “It was a totally unnecessary use of force,” he said. “I saw police officers on motorcycles running into protesters and knocking them down, shooting people who were leaving in the back.”
Berkeley resident Susan Quinlan said she was hit in the back of her arm and leg shortly after joining the crowd of picketers at the corner Seventh and Maritime streets. “All of a sudden I heard shots and explosions and began to breathe some kind of gas,” she said. “I and other protesters began walking away as quickly as possible, but the police continued to fire on us. This kind of bullying is the same kind of bullying that our government is doing around the world.”
Protesters also said police fired wooden dowels directly at them, despite the fact that the label on the container holding the wooden dowel warns against firing the bullet directly at a target.
Ashford said police didn’t fire wooden dowels at protesters, saying they probably were hit by bean bags. And she disputed claims that police aimed their fire at protesters’ faces and heads. “Our officers are not trained to do that,” she said.
Sri Louise, a member of the Peace and Resistance Mobile Yoga Unit, was hit in the face shortly after huddling down by a truck in the road. Her left jaw was red and swollen and her neck bruised.
“They were on both sides of us and then started to drive into us, saying ‘Get up, go,’” she said. “But they were on both sides of us. There was nowhere to go.”
When she finally got up, she said she was shot.
Police arrested 31 people, including Jack Heyman, a longshoreman attempting to reach his fellow workers who were standing about 100 yards from the protest and waiting to hear from superiors whether they should cross the picket lines.
Heyman, a union arbitrator, said he intended to tell workers that they should not cross the picket line and tried to stop police from firing on longshoremen.
Ashford didn’t have any information about Heyman’s arrest, but said the police department regrets shooting at the dock workers.
“It is unfortunate,” she said. “I can assure you that they were not targeted on purpose.”