Bright flashes of light, ear-piercing explosions and rising smoke might be considered ordinary in the middle of a war zone, but these were the sights and sounds in downtown Oakland during last Tuesday’s Occupy Oakland demonstration.
Several hundred protesters gathered the night of October 25 in Frank Ogawa Plaza as part of the recent ‘Occupy’ demonstrations aimed at calling attention to social and economic injustices. After issuing several warnings to the crowd to disperse, Oakland Police launched canisters of tear gas in an attempt to forcibly disperse protesters.
Lauren Smith, 29, studied under the EMT licesing program at Solano Community College and was assisting protesters as a medic.
“I saw a lot of people with tear gas injuries,” Smith said. “Their skin was inflamed and burning, and their eyes were tearing. Their optic nerves were seizing, and we had to force their eyes open to flush them.”
Initial statements by OPD cited the use of “minimal tear gas” and denied the use of rubber bullets, in spite of contradictory reports from eyewitnesses. In a recent press release, Oakland Police Interim Chief Howard Jordan stated he was confident that the appropriate action had been taken.
“Under the circumstances of this event our officers used what they believed to be the least amount of force possible to protect themselves and gain control of the situation,” Johnson said in the statement.
The following day, rumors began to spread that the San Francisco Police Department was planning to raid the Occupy SF camp at Justin Herman Plaza after the campers were alleged to be in violation of sanitation laws.
Protesters linked arms to form human barriers in anticipation of the police’s arrival, and were joined by local political figures.
San Francisco mayoral candidate John Avalos was among those who attended the Wednesday night protest, where he stayed until around 4 a.m.
“I wholeheartedly agree with the movement,” Avalos said. “I wanted to show that there are political leaders that do support the movement and that would put their jobs on the line for it.”
Avalos noted that he was there to “protect” the protesters in the event that SFPD made the decision to use force against them. No police raid took place, however, and SFPD spokesman Carlos Manfredi noted that the department used the event as a means to go over police training.
“We had two main concerns,” Manfredi said. “We were concerned about a possible spillover that could cause marching and demonstrations in San Francisco and we wanted to provide mutual aid for Oakland. We used that as an opportunity to go over training procedures.”
BART closed two downtown Oakland stations as well as Embarcadero station to prevent protesters from Oakland reconvening in San Francisco.
Occupy Oakland protesters voted last week to approve a general strike for today, calling for labor unions, students and teachers to skip work and school and gather at 14th and Broadway Streets at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.