by Adam Rothstein, Paul Cone, and Occupy Portland Media Correspondents Arlo, Mike, and KMT
On January 28th, Occupy Oakland attempted to occupy a long-shuttered convention hall, for the purposes of starting a community center. The result was an all-out assault on the protesters of Occupy Oakland by the police force of that city, resulting in more than 400 arrests, and countless stories of physical and mental abuse and torture by the authorities upon the protesters.
Three members of Occupy Portland media travelled to Oakland for what was widely dubbed “Move-In Day.” Two of them were arrested, even though they were there to act as citizen journalists and document the day. Their stories serve as a testament to how far the persecution of activists and media in Oakland has gone, and just how far out of control the police and the government is in that city.
In the wake of protesters trashing the Town Hall and burning an American flag, the Mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, said she will reach out to “leaders” of Occupy Wall Street to disavow Occupy Oakland’s violence. And she said of protesters in her city, “They are treating us like a playground.” But to report on a few protesters’ angry destruction, without telling the story of the reason for the anger against a powerful, violent, and unjust police force and the city government that does nothing to stop it, is tantamount to lying. With this story, we hope to tell a much fuller truth about what happened in Oakland on January 28th.
KMT, Occupy Portland Media:
We got to Oakland at 4 AM on the 28th, and slept in a parking space across from Oscar Grant Plaza. We woke up and were in the park at noon. As soon as we got there, there were arrests right away, in the street. Over the past weeks there had been many arrests, but the people weren’t charged, and were released. They were told the police had a year to bring charges. So on Saturday, they were arresting people and putting trumped up charges on them. So first thing, we got there and there was an arrest. That guy was out in half an hour. He came back and made an announcement, warning that if you had been arrested previously, you could be arrested just like that.[Reports on Twitter mentioned a “book of photos” of Oakland protesters, in the possession of many different officers on January 28th. The people whose pictures were in this book were pulled out of the crowd, and arrested without cause, in this fashion, often to be released without charges only an hour or two later. Numerous snatch-and-grab arrests were caught on OakFoSho’s Livestream camera footage from that day.]
We got to the point where we were trying to go through the college, and vehicles couldn’t follow. At that point, there were two options. One was a big walkway next to the lake, and the police had barricaded that off. Already the cops were starting to control things. The only other exit was a two-lane bridge over the lake. Everyone had to go back and over that, and it took a long time to get everyone back and over. Once over the bridge, we were up to the back side of the auditorium [The Kaiser Convention Center] that we were supposed to try to occupy.
The police must have known. The whole property was filled with riot cops, snipers, shot guns–they had that property fully protected before we even got there. Then we were staging, waiting for the people to finish coming across the bridge. Then people started to take the fence down, and the police fired smoke bombs. The protesters were never going to get that building, there were so many cops; it was pointless. The protesters tried to go around the back. The cops formed a solid line across the street, and this is where the first real action happened between the cops and the protesters.
I had never been hit with tear gas before. Occupiers were throwing things at the police, and throwing back the tear gas canisters that the cops had fired at them. I had never experienced anything like it. Oakland is a world of difference from Portland. Every corner we go on, the police were moving their line up. In Portland, they let the lines form, and allow the protesters to gather and protest or chant. What the Oakland cops will do, is when everyone is standing peacefully, the cops will say, “Double time!” and charge. When the protesters run, then the cops stop. They did this a couple times, and then they got into their vans and left.
Everyone re-gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza. Plan B at that point was to try another building. We had gotten two blocks from the plaza, and then the cops came again. There was a first kettle, at Martin Luther King Park. We go into this park, surrounded by condos. There were several exits out via side streets, and a vacant lot that was fenced off. It was amazing how fast those cops mobilized and closed off exits. We noticed that they closed off every exit, and people started to get freaked out. We just wandered around, trying to come up with a plan, to figure out how to leave the park. We asked the police how to get out, and the cops said if you leave in small groups, they’ll let you out on the other side. We tried, and they didn’t let us. There was no way out. There was a quick GA in the center of the park to decide what to do. The consensus was to not stay trapped. The protesters decided to charge the police at a weak point, where there were much fewer officers, to try to get out. The police let loose with tear gas, smoke bombs, bean bags. It was a mess. The protesters didn’t get through. I went back to the chain link fence closing off the vacant lot. There, people pulled on the fence, rocking it back and forth to pull the poles out of the concrete. When the fence came down, the whole crowd followed, and they broke out of that kettle. The cops just watched, and didn’t try to re-form a line.
The protesters regrouped and marched from there. The crowd blocked a main road. The police weren’t around much at this point, probably planning their next move. The march stopped in front of the YMCA to wait for stragglers, and that’s when the police lines formed at either side, in front and in back, trapping everyone in that one block. There was a tall, 18-foot-high welded metal fence in the block, and some people started going over to escape. I didn’t try it because I had all my camera gear.
The steps of the YMCA were being flooded with people with no where else to go, and I went over there. Arlo went into the YMCA, and eventually got away [see Arlo’s story, below]. Mike and I were on the steps, trying to stay with the crowd to stay safe and limit the charges we received, thinking it was inevitable that we’d be arrested at that point, because there was no way to leave, and the police wouldn’t let anyone out. Ten seconds later, the police rushed in, clubbing people, from both ends of the street. People were smashed into the corner of the YMCA from both sides. It was insane. Lots of younger women who probably hadn’t done much protesting, smashed into each other like sardines. They held us there for like 45 minutes. I think they had to get more officers there to make the arrests. They were making the dispersal order while we were trapped there, and yet they wouldn’t let us leave. They made a dispersal order, and didn’t give us any options, as if that made it legal. People doing nothing wrong were attacked, beaten, and dragged off. Police were above us on the steps, pointing guns down on us, laughing, joking, saying that they won. People knew that they were going to be arrested at that point, so they were calling family, writing down NLG numbers…
Then the cops came five at a time, grabbed a few people, and if they resisted at all they were beaten. I put my hands up, trying to do exactly what they told me so I wouldn’t be beaten, and I walked quietly as they arrested me.
Arlo, Occupy Portland Media:
We went to Oakland to help move Occupy Oakland into a new building, not to fight cops.
All three Portland Occupiers were trapped in the kettle at the YMCA. I was still on the street filming Mike. It is not true, as I’ve heard reported from multiple places, the YMCA let us in to give us refuge, or “to be nice.” The YMCA staff had no idea there were hundreds of riot cops below and to the sides. It was 6:45 in the evening and the staff couldn’t see the cops. Because there was only a handful of people at the doors pleading for entry to no avail for minutes (the rest were turned to the street, filming), the staff only knew something was not quite right. Then a protester who had a membership card to the YMCA flashed it. JAILBREAK! As soon as I heard the cheer meaning the doors opened, I got in line at the bottom of the steps to go up, now that the crowd previously standing on them had spilled into the YMCA. I just wanted a better spot to film Mike with the bullhorn! When I got to the top of the stairs and turned, riot cops had just started running in from the corner, swinging batons wildly. I filmed until they got the bottom of the steps, then turned to get in line to enter the YMCA. I got in five seconds before the cops sealed it off. The doors were open just 40 seconds total.
We’re standing there in the YMCA now, having just escaped the baton swinging cops outside, people are screaming, and the doors are closed to the patio where all the cops were. I’m thinking there’s no way they can get us now. Wrong. They just started pouring into YMCA with beanbag shotguns, lining up with their backs to the door looking at us, ten feet away, cop after cop after cop, chambering ammo. “Click-click, click-click.” I film this from 20 feet until there’s maybe 15 officers inside, more coming by the second. “Click-click, click-click.” I turn and run into the room of gym equipment. There’s only two people behind me, both of whom turn and run too. I flee the big room, and almost immediately find the emergency exit door! But it leads straight outside to the street, where everyone is getting arrested. I keep looking for an exit that doesn’t have cops in it, running through customers playing basketball and working out, past terrified Occupiers who didn’t get out but are searching desperately for a way, just like me. I have no idea the riot police are yards away from me with weapons drawn and are crouching/creeping/advancing toward the last exit until I see them! Paramilitary units of armed riot cops hunted Occupiers with weapons drawn, in the YMCA gym, with guests present, and it’s not even 7pm.
These were non-violent Occupiers too. If you weren’t already on the YMCA steps, you didn’t get in. The hardcore kids were still out on the street, waving the flag and carrying on. The ones who were on the steps and who burst into the YMCA were young, worried, cautious, safety-first types and a few camera people wanting the elevation. I was one of the last out the emergency exit door: the only way that anyone got out. My last ten seconds of the total two minutes I spent inside were spent not running, but waiting, still in the hall, waiting for the people bottlenecked ahead of me to clear the back door, while cops in formation advanced with weapons drawn. They were only seven to ten yards from us at the end, by the time I hit the stairs and made it out with maybe five others behind me. It was just surreal. We were terrified, and I know I wasn’t the only one who wondered if they were going to shoot us in the back. After all, we were in Oakland. But nobody pushed over anyone else while we waited patiently, even as the cops closed on us. Occupiers were calm and brave in a crazy tense situation.
Mike said he talked to one of the Occupiers trapped inside, the guy took his shirt off and pretended he was there to work out to escape the cops with the guns. He said everybody in the building got rounded up, and you were asked for your papers, your membership card. All twenty-four occupiers who ended up not getting out of the YMCA had felony charges added just for just being in the YMCA: burglary, robbery, craziness! All had high bail, and went to Santa Rita [a jail outside of Oakland].
I guess Oakland Police policy states that hunting Occupiers with weapons drawn, in businesses full of customers is okay. I wonder how the YMCA feels about having their guests rounded up at gunpoint and made to show their membership card or face five days of jail, torture, and felony charges?
Since Mike, Kevin with the car keys, and everyone else in Occupy Oakland was in jail, I walked all over looking for sanctuary. Eventually, stumbling and falling down tired, just wanting a safe place to rest, I found my way back to Martin Luther King Park where we got kettled the first time, at 4:15 AM. In true Occupy Providence fashion, the abandoned Move-In Day Occu-cart was there! It was left when we escaped from the first kettle, because we couldn’t get it over the pushed down fence to safety. And it had bedrolls on it! I napped until 7:30 AM, when the cops woke me up. They took the cart but let me go. I had a place to sleep because of Occupy. I was one of the few who stayed out of jail and kept occupying.
Mike, Occupy Portland Media:
They surrounded us in front of the YMCA, and completely blocked off the street. They announced that we were a riot and an illegal assembly and we should disperse. But when we asked to leave, they said, “You can’t leave,” and then they arrested us for not dispersing.
The way that they arrested us was they blew whistles and started marching, shouting, “Double-time!” and then ran right into us with clubs swinging, just taking people down. I watched them grab girls and shove them to the ground and hit them on the head. It was like something out of a bad movie.
The thing I find most ironic is that I just had got on the bullhorn and announced to them that they had sworn an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution. I asked which ones of them had taken their oath seriously, what side of history do you people want to be on? Do you guys want to be remembered as the Nazis of the 21st century? And then they screamed, “Double-time!” like an order, and rushed us. They pushed me into a group into a corner, and then kept announcing, “Disperse! Disperse!” and I said, “I can’t disperse. You won’t let me disperse!” They laughed at me. And I knew I was going to get arrested anyway, and so when the crowd started getting smaller and smaller, I surrendered so my camera equipment didn’t get hurt.
This is how being arrested worked: after you are handcuffed, there are all these lines. In the first one they get your info, search you, and if you have a bag, they tell you to make sure all of your property is in the bag. They leave you your cell phone, and tell you to put everything else in your bag to ease the process. But they trick you by saying this, because when I got out, I didn’t get my bag for a day, with my wallet and keys inside. I was basically homeless.
The next line is where they take the bag, and check in your property. Then, the next line is for the bus. This was three hours just to get on the bus, and then another hour and a half on the bus waiting.
The driver was a real jerk. He wanted four people to move into a caged area in the back, and there was barely room for two. He pushed two people in a small cage, and they just wouldn’t fit. When one guy wouldn’t pull his leg inside because he couldn’t, the driver took him outside and beat him. Then he searched everyone again. We had been handcuffed for four hours at that point.
We were supposed to go to the precinct downtown. The driver said, “If you’re good you go to the precinct. If you’re bad you go to Santa Rita. You don’t want to go there.” Thirty minutes later, he says, “You’re going to Santa Rita, ‘cause your occupier friends have surrounded the precinct.”
So we get Santa Rita. We waited on the bus for awhile. There was a long process of getting off, and standing outside. This was a prison for long jail sentences, but they did have a small intake center, which is where we went. They brought us from the bus in small groups, into the intake center, and leaned against the wall, still in handcuffs. We were searched again. These guys at the prison didn’t even know we were coming, and they were pissed off about that. They don’t like Occupiers, and they didn’t know we were coming, so they were being jerks.
They took our handcuffs off, and put us in a cell. We still had cell phones. I had just taken out my cell phone to turn it on, and then they yelled, “Out of the cells!” Then they pulled us out and took the cell phones. Then put us back in the cells. Then they yelled at us to come out again, and they brought us out and took our shoelaces. Then they put us back in the cell. It was like they had no idea what they were doing.
Then the next bus comes, and they go through that process. Then the next bus. The prison guards seemed to figure out what they were doing after the first bus. We could see out the window what they were doing to the other buses as they came in. There was a city bus that had riot police and protesters on it; that was second to last. That was the slowest one, making it really slow and cruel on purpose.
The last bus sat out there for three hours. The people on that bus were in handcuffs for over nine hours total. Those people had to go to the bathroom in their seats. We interviewed a girl on that bus. On one end of the bus, the people went to the bathroom, just sitting there. The other people were let off and were processed. But the people who had gone to the bathroom were made to stand outside for over an hour in the cold. It was really cold that night, and it was getting light outside before they let them in. Then they brought them in, making fun of them and humiliating them for going to the bathroom.
The whole time it was such a slow process, because they were incompetent. Most of us should have been cite and release. But we still had to be booked before they could cite us. 330 had to all be booked before we could be cited and released. I heard a guy asked for food, and they took him out and beat him. In our cell, a 10’ x 10’ cell, there were 26 people, for five hours. They fed us Sunday morning at 7, but that was it. When I got out, I hadn’t had any food in 13 hours. They pretty much denied use of the phone, because there was only one for all those people. They packed people in cells, women directly across from men in full view, and there’s only a single toilet in the cell. There were empty cells all around, but they packed us all in together. It was pretty clear they were just trying to make this miserable.
We were the first bus, so we were the first to start the release process. They took eight or ten people at a time. After a shift change, they didn’t know what they wanted to do; said maybe they’d stop for the night. I wasn’t in the first two groups to be released, because I had to be bailed, being out of state.
Then I get out at 8 PM. The National Lawyers Guild is there, taking everyone’s name. Other protesters are there to provide jail support. At that point I had no money, because my wallet was with my bag, which they had taken downtown. They gave me a BART pass, but I got a ride with jail support. I found Arlo, and we found a place to stay with a girl we knew from Portland, almost in Berkeley. The next morning we had to walk to Oakland to get my bag. We were supposed to make an appointment, but no one answered the phone. There was one lady doing all the property. She was picking through it slowly, and making a list of the stuff she found. At noon, she hadn’t found my bag yet. She finally called my name at 1 PM. After we got my wallet, we went to try and bail out Mike. The bail bond woman stalled; made excuses. Mike didn’t get out until 1 AM.
It’s good being out of jail, but I had to borrow money to get bailed out, which squeezed on my rent, and I have to go back to Oakland later this month. While I was in jail, they dug up another warrant on me, something I did when I was homeless.
I was in the easy jail, but Kevin got sent to hell. The first day and a half or two days I was stuck in a 10’ x 12’ cell with like 15 other people, and they would move us from one box to another periodically. And there was this weird toilet in the middle of the floor, and every once in a while it would flush; it was the grossest thing ever.
They started cited and releasing people, but they wouldn’t cite and release me because they said I was a flight risk because I wasn’t a resident of Oakland. So then they put us in solitary isolation, and they only opened our door when they gave us food. The greyest brown walls, a toilet and a sink, and this horrible bed mattress thing. I sprained my ankle at Occupy Congress, and it got re-twisted during the Occupy Oakland march, and I asked, “Please, can I have some ibuprofen?” They never let me have any pain medication, so I filled the sink in my cell with cold water and soaked it to get the swelling to go down.
My bail went through, and they said, “You’ll be released in three or four hours.” Then they came back 45 minutes later, and they mentioned this charge from 9 years ago when I was homeless in the Bay Area, and they said they couldn’t release me because of this warrant. When they told me I wasn’t going to get out, I started going crazy, screaming and throwing a fit like a feral animal. A few moments later the guard came in. I told him, “I’m from Portland, Oregon. I was a different human being then. Now I have a dog and a girlfriend….” I had tears in my eyes. That cop had been mean to me days before. Now he said, “Let me see what I can do.” He came back 15 minutes later and said, “Pack up your stuff, you’re going home.” I was shocked–I’d been thinking they were going to come back and beat me. I still have to go back to court for that other date. I’m scared that they’re going to throw me back into jail for months.
Editor’s Note: Mike is facing a charge for “car theft”, that stems from sleeping in an abandoned car in the Bay Area when he was homeless nine years ago. The only reason they are digging up this charge now, and threatening to send him to jail for 3 to 4 months, is because he was arrested as an Occupier. He is raising money to fight these charges now, and would appreciate any help you could give him.