Using Police In Oakland to Clear Out Occupy Was a Mistake (Commentary)

By Don Macleay
Tuesday October 25, 2011 - 09:58:00 PM

Using the police to clear out Occupy Oakland was exactly the wrong thing to do. 

Questions: 1. Where was the emergency? 2. Is it better now? 3. Was someone saved by this? 4. Is it somehow the fault of the protestors that there is so little trust in government? 5. Is there going to be better trust in government now? 6. Will the relations between Oakland and our police force improve now? 

What struck me most was the image of the police tearing up the signs and kicking the Occupy tent people’s stuff all over the plaza. I thought that the Police job was to arrest people and let Public Works clean up the encampment, not to do a violent victory dance over the defeat of those whose politics they oppose. 

I stuck my neck out in person, in public and on line telling the protestors to engage, to accept dialog, to back away from any confrontation and to carry ourselves with dignity out of respect for our fellow citizens and out of respect for the righteousness of our cause. 

It seems that the same message was needed inside our city government this week. No wonder that they never returned calls. And in the end, the police wracked more violence in a couple hours, destroyed more property and hurt more people that Occupy Oakland did in two weeks. Keep in mind, there was no riot, no emergency, no move made by the protestors other than to refuse to leave. It was the city of Oakland and the police that initiated the violence and chose its time. 

Many things could have been done instead, especially since there was no urgent problem. For one they could have given our offer to act as a go between a try. No calls returned. How was that any different from the folk at the General Assembly refusing to speak with the city? 

For every protestor arrested this morning, you can figure there are at least 1,000 who supported that cause and at least 100 of their community who will know the person taken away. You can add this number of people to the already existing resentment and distrust. You can add this to the history of bad relations between Oakland Police and Oakland. 

We had cops from the suburbs arresting our protestors, destroying poor people’s property, and relishing tearing up our signs and kicking our stuff around. No good will come of this. Maybe they could burn the books from the library tent and make a full show of it. 

Yesterday I was at the Snow Park part of the encampment and we donated a tarp and a big blue ball to the kid’s tent. My son picked that ball out for those kids from his own toys. This morning I told him what happened and that all people in the tents, the toys and the big blue ball are now gone, to be trashed by the police. He felt sorry for one of the kids for whom those were most of the toys he had. 

A number of the people in both encampments were living there before the protests started. Most of the big problems sited in the city’s memos already existed. Those people will now face jail, inadequate social services and all the situations that made them homeless and living in the Plaza in the first place. Those 6 children who lived in the camp will be badly hurt by all of this in ways that will leave a lasting effect. But in our city, some hippies smoking dope in the park protesting banks is an urgent situation worthy of high spending and violence to quash. The hundreds, maybe thousands of Oakland residents who reside nowhere is obviously not so urgent a problem. Now the two have met the police. 

When my 8 year old overheard adults talking about where the protests go from here he said: “what protests? now it is more like a war” and sure enough we have something of a war on the streets of Oakland tonight, a war provoked by unnecessary police intervention. 

A beautiful thing has been lost. Occupy Oakland had its problems, but it also had its promise. There were workshops, books, a children’s zone and some very good community bridge building going on. The place did not look or feel like a riot, it felt more like a festival. To quote Zennie “it was bone headed to refuse to talk to the city”. Zennie is also right on to say that efforts inside the protest were dealing with the problems that the city was complaining about. All of them, even opening up and inviting the city to come and talk at the General Assembly. Most of the stories in the press were gross exaggerations and half truths. Members of the community were also coming out with everything from port-a-potties, protest marchers and just plane willingness to speak with the protesters and promote solidarity and harmony. Also beautiful and totally justified is the anger expressed towards those who own our economy and the government that serves them and only them. 

A beautiful opportunity has also been lost. This Occupy Wall Street movement is a watershed in American politics. Oakland could have been the place where there could have been harmony and cooperation between our local government and this very justified protest movement. 

We have every reason in the world to be mad with Wall Street, the big Banks and the corrupt system of lobbyist based politics that Occupy Wall Street is pulling back the curtain on. 

Now we have every reason on earth to be mad at our local government.