A long day of mostly peaceful protest on Wednesday in Oakland descended into chaos after midnight. Masked vandals shattered windows, set fires and plastered downtown businesses with graffiti before police moved in, dispersing crowds with tear gas and concussive grenades and making mass arrests.
The street clashes – which hospitalized at least three protesters and left several officers with minor injuries – happened near Occupy Oakland’s tent city in a plaza outside City Hall, which had been the center of Wednesday’s “general strike.” That event peaked when thousands of people angry at economic inequality marched to the Port of Oakland, shutting it down.
Most of those people had gone home by 11 p.m. Wednesday, when dozens of protesters took over a vacant 2-story building at 16th Street and Broadway – two blocks from the City Hall encampment – that once housed the nonprofit Travelers Aid Society.
Hundreds of others looked on as protesters barricaded the block at both ends with wooden pallets, trash cans, tables and tires. They hung banners from the building’s roof, spray painted its exterior and chanted, “Whose street, our street!” One group of protesters broke cement blocks into baseball-size rocks.
Police had kept their distance from Occupy Oakland protesters since coming under scrutiny for deploying tear gas and concussive grenades, and firing projectiles, in a clash last week that left one demonstrator with a serious head injury. Police critics said officers used excessive force and violated city policies on crowd control.
But late Wednesday, hundreds of police officers responded to the area just before midnight. They found that protesters – many covering their faces with bandanas, and some in gas masks – had started a massive trash fire at 16th and Broadway that sent flames 15 feet high.
Police said later that they were concerned that the flames endangered the many residents in the area, not to mention the 500 or so people on the street.
Just after midnight, police ordered the crowd to disperse as an “unlawful assembly.” Soon, one officer on Broadway was struck on his face shield by a bottle, staggering him. Within a minute, officers began to launch concussive grenades and tear gas canisters. Protesters scattered and a fire crew put out the blaze.
The crowd quickly regrouped and entered into a long standoff with officers on Broadway, shouting at them and taunting them. Another confrontation happened at 16th Street and San Pablo Avenue, where police officers surrounded several dozen people and arrested them just before 1:30 a.m.
That “mostly peaceful” protest during the day included breaking windows and other vandalism. They even hit a Whole Foods store – talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
Then they marched over to the Port of Oakland and shut it down. Why? Because it was there.
The Port of Oakland is the largest non-governmental employer in Oakland. It provides (union) jobs and tax revenues. It is not a bank nor was it involved in the financial meltdown. It’s located a long way from Wall Street.
What right, moral principle or theory of law entitled the protesters to shut down the Port of Oakland?