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Thursday, Oct 27, 2011, 6:17 am

Thousands Flood Streets In Oakland, NYC

By Allison Kilkenny

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Thousands reconvened in front of Oakland's City Hall last night for more protests following yesterday's brutal police crackdown. Protesters tore down police barriers that had been constructed around the main plaza and prepared for what one activist described as "round two" of street battles (photo by j_sight).

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan made a bizarre appearance at the protest in which she admitted that she "didn't know everything" when asked by reporters if she was satisfied with how police conducted the sweep, and continued to struggle providing an explanation for how the decision was made to violently crush the dissent.

It's been a difficult task to get Oakland officials to admit anything (what they knew, who gave the orders, etc.). It's even been difficult to get the OPD to admit they used weaponry at all. Police still deny using rubber bullets and flash grenades despite the mounds of evidence emerging that contradict the department. 

Quan also wouldn't say which agency shot the projectile that injured Iraq veteran Scott Olsen (there have been reports that the OPD was assisted by reserve forces from other cities). The mayor then she would be calling for a "low" police presence in the next days as she tries to resolve the matter.

At Oakland's General Assembly, the group announced it would call for a general strike in Oakland for November 2. The announcement was a deeply symbolic moment because in 1946 the Oakland "Work Holiday" was the last general strike to ever occur in the United States.

Unlike Tuesday's mayhem, the protest last night lasted a few hours before protesters dispersed around midnight.

Meanwhile, in New York City, hundreds of amped protesters marched past City Hall in a show of solidarity with Oakland.

It was difficult at times to fathom that the NYPD was behaving so passively during the display of protester defiance, which included marching in the middle of the street, and even snatching some of the police's infamous orange netting from them. This was the same force that has previously pepper-sprayed young women, beat protesters, charged crowds with horses, and ran over a lawyer with a motorcycle. 

Journalist Michael Tracy reported witnessing an actual moment of restraint by a superior officer. "Cop bumped into demonstrator, demonstrator fell. Cop took out baton, senior cop ran over and restrained him. No attack," he tweeted

Though ten protesters were arrested, including prominent activist Hero Vincent (this makes Vincent's fourth Occupy Wall Street-related arrest,) and there were still some clashes between protesters and police, many expressed surprise that the NYPD had been so comparatively relaxed in their response. There had been much speculation in the Twittersphere concerning mass arrests, and empty city buses that were waiting ominously in the wings. But that "Brooklyn Bridge" moment never came.

What struck me as strange about last night was precisely that passivity from both Oakland and NYC's police forces. Oftentimes, the police presences were barely noticeable at all, and when they were acknowledged, it was usually in some comical way (NYC protesters stole some netting from officers, Oakland police are still denying they're using flash grenades even though the flash grenades are visible on film).

I wouldn't dare speculate that the respective police forces are by any means surrendering, but they do seem momentarily baffled by the Occupy movements. Trying to squash the uprisings has brought police nothing but headaches and bad PR, and they can't control this movement as they have activist groups in the past.

Mayor Bloomberg has run a clinic on how to not handle this kind of rebellion, first flexing, and then backing off his statements numerous times.

At one point, a seemingly flustered Quan said she was willing to meet with the protesters, but didn't know who the leader was. I mean, such a shockingly ignorant statement hardly instills confidence in one's mayor. It's taken Quan this long to figure out this movement doesn't have traditional leadership? And even so, so what? It wouldn't have taken a sit-down meeting with King Occupy Wall Street to understand deploying a police force with rubber bullets, flash grenades, bean bag guns, and then overseeing police lying about it is bad form.

Let's be super generous and pretend Quan really had no idea what the Oakland police were up to. That's still a damning indictment on her poor leadership skills.

There's also the question of who shot Scott Olsen. Was it OPD? If not, does Quan care that she's bussing in out-of-town police to shoot veterans?

Around 2600 arrests have been made thus far in response to the Occupy movements nationwide, and the spirit of the rebellion doesn't appear to be waning. Following the Oakland war zone, other mayors have expressed they're at their breaking points with the protests.

The simple truth is there are only two approaches to Occupy: tolerate the movement and learn to work with the protesters, or crush the uprising. The bad news for city and town officials everywhere is the latter approach doesn't appear to work.

Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.

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