Oakland Protesters Shut Down Port, Clash With Police

Allison Kilkenny

(Updated 12:57 PM)

Thousands of protesters marched through downtown Oakland yesterday as part of the General Strike” and day of action.

Activists eventually shut down the city’s port, though there was some initial confusion over if what was happening constituted a full shut-down by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union local 10, or a slow-down. Jack Heyman, a recently retired business agent for the ILWU made some early statements that led Occupy Oakland to believe the former, though ILWU quickly responded that Heyman does not speak for the group in any official capacity.

However, rank and file longshoremen adamantly declared that many longshoremen decided not to work yesterday and as a result disrupted work at the port. Hence, maritime operations’ declaration that the port was effectively” shut down.

For a while, it seemed like the protests would proceed without dramatics, and there was a conspicuously low police presence as if Mayor Quan and the OPD were trying to erase the image of the police’s violent crackdown on Occupy Oakland from the public memory. 

Around 300 Oakland teachers took the day off to participate in the strike, and some Oakland businesses showed support for the protest by going cash-only for the day and eschewing credit cards, while numerous businesses shuttered their doors in solidarity.

Men’s Warehouse even expressed encouragement for the 99 percent” in its store window (photo by Matt O’Brien):

Hundreds of demonstrators shut down a local Citibank chapter and unfurled a banner in front of the store, listing Citibank Crimes,” including the bank bailout of $476 billion, soaring profits (up 74 percent,) CEO Vikram Pandit’s annual salary of $95 million, and Citibank’s $0 corporate tax rate.

As night approached, the fully expected happened: a group of around 100 mostly young men broke from the main group of protesters and stole the media’s attention by spraying graffiti, burning garbage, and breaking windows. This behavior resulted in the second barrage of tear gas to hang over Oakland within two weeks and dozens of arrests.

Demonstrators had gained entrance to an empty building that had previously housed the Traveler’s Aid Society, a nonprofit that assists the homeless but has since become the target of funding cuts. Leaflets stated the activists had declared the building for reuse.”

Police officers began to suit up in riot gear, and were reportedly supported by Alameda County Sheriffs deputies and Concord Police officers, while demonstrators lit garbage aflame in a makeshift barricade, which firefighters promptly extinguished. Protesters allegedly threw flaming objects at the officers, and police countered with projectiles, according to the LA Times.

At 1:14 a.m., a loud explosion was heard on a livestream video of the encampment. One protesters was hit in the leg with some kind of projectile. Video shows him running, then standing doubled over whimpering in pain.”

You just fired on and injured an unarmed person,” one man could be heard yelling.

The Oakland Tribune reported that the man was taken away in an ambulance after fellow demonstrators repeatedly asked for help.

To its credit, even the New York Times describes the event as a spasm” of violence, and accurately portrays the sect as what it was, a small faction that broke from the much larger, peaceful group.

Update: It’s a shame that such an overwhelmingly peaceful day of action now runs the risk of being overshadowed by a small group of rowdy protesters. Additionally, it would be unfair of the media to portray this 100, or so, troublemakers as being - in any way - represenative of Occupy Oakland.

To illustrate the silliness of this logic, consider if the media used this report of a driver mowing down a couple protesters as somehow meaning all vehicle owners must now permanently bear the mark of shame. Of course, that isn’t the case, and such reasoning should be dismissed as faulty outright. This was an instance of one irresponsible driver making a bad decision, just as the Traveler’s Aid Society incident were the acts of .1 percent of the general strike’s overall population.

Curiously, unlike the dozens of protesters who were ultimately arrested last night, the driver was permitted to leave the scene without being charged.

Video of the car hitting protesters:

Journalist Susie Cagle was also arrested in the early hours today. I previously interviewed Cagle about witnessing the first tear gas attack by police. As of right now, it seems she was charged with unlawful assembly.

Protesters have also removed the barricade at the Port of Oakland, which will allow the port to operate again.

Footage of protesters shutting down the port Wednesday:

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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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