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2011-10-26

Police Fire Tear Gas, Flash Grenades as Protesters Try to Retake Occupy Oakland After Predawn Raid

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Oakland police repeatedly fired tear gas and flash grenades Tuesday night as protesters attempted to retake the Occupy Oakland encampment outside City Hall—only 12 hours after police tore apart the camp and arrested more than 90 people in a pre-dawn raid. Observers said that at times the downtown resembled a war zone last night. Some protesters are being held on $10,000 bail. We speak to Rachel Jackson of the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality and State Repression about how the police are handling Occupy Oakland. We also are joined by John Avalos, San Francisco city supervisor and a candidate for mayor of San Francisco. On Tuesday, Avalos introduced a resolution supporting the right of the Occupy San Francisco protest to continue its peaceful assembly in public spaces. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As we reported in headlines, Oakland police repeatedly fired tear gas and flash grenades Tuesday night as protesters attempted to retake the Occupy Oakland encampment outside City Hall. Observers said that at times downtown resembled a war zone. The protest began 12 hours after police raided the Occupy Oakland encampment and arrested nearly a hundred protesters. The detained protesters are being held on $10,000 bail.

Here are some of the voices from last night’s demonstration.

PROTESTERS: Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!

PROTESTER 1: Dude!

PROTESTER 2: These people have tear-gassed us multiple times for peacefully sitting and protesting.

PROTESTERS: The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!

PROTESTER 3: It was just—it was so unjust, like nobody was really doing anything that would justify tear gas.

PROTESTERS: Bakersfield, California! Occupy! Berkeley, California! Occupy!

OMAR: I’m Omar. I was born and raised in Oakland. And basically, we’re sick of corporate greed. That’s all it is. Sickness of corporate greed.

PROTESTER 4: Everybody knows it’s not fair for two percent to own 50 percent of the wealth in this world. No matter what business school you went to, if you didn’t learn that, you failed kindergarten.

PROTESTER 5: People are fed up, on all different—on multiple levels, right? Like, through public education, all the resources that are being cut, the fees that are going up. I think the whole—the economy. And just there’s a lot of things that are culminating right now, so this is just an extension of all that, and that’s where I’m coming from.

PROTESTER 6: People had a meeting over in front of the library at 4:00, and we decided that we wanted to come and take this park back. It’s public land. We are the public of California. They’re here to protect and serve us. And right now they’re not doing too good of a job.

PROTESTER 7: But we know we are here for a cause. And that cause, it has to be achieved. There’s no way we’re going to go back. No way. Nobody’s going to push us back. No way. The more you try to put us back, the more we’ll come in large numbers.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks to KPFA’s John Hamilton for some of those voices in Oakland last night, where police repeatedly fired tear gas and flash grenades at protesters upset that police had cleared the Occupy encampment in front of City Hall Monday morning. Earlier in the day, Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan defended the use of force to break up the camp.

INTERIM POLICE CHIEF HOWARD JORDAN: The decision to move was based on public health and safety, due to defecation, fire hazards, sexual assault incidents, violent behavior, and the denial of access of medical aid.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now in Berkeley at the University of California, Berkeley’s TV studios by Rachel Jackson. She is with the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality and State Repression. She’s been helping to organize Occupy Oakland.

We’re also joined by John Avalos. He is the San Francisco city supervisor and candidate for mayor of San Francisco. On Tuesday, John Avalos introduced a resolution supporting the right of Occupy San Francisco protest to continue its peaceful assembly on Market Street and other public spaces, like Justin Herman Plaza.

Rachel Jackson, John Avalos, welcome to Democracy Now! Rachel, let’s start with you. What happened over these last 24 hours? And also, your group is called the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality and State Repression. They’ve also named the plaza outside City Hall the Oscar Grant Plaza. Explain why.

RACHEL JACKSON: Yes, Amy. First of all, I just want to clarify really quickly that I’m not one of the organizers but have been a supporter and a participant and was one of many of the people who were doing—were signed on to do emergency response when the eviction time came. The significance of calling the square Oscar Grant Plaza has—it’s sort of—it’s twofold. One is in memory of Oscar Grant and all of the young men who were attacked by BART police, and Oscar had been murdered by the BART police in 2009. But also, really—

AMY GOODMAN: This was the famous image that was caught on videotape. Explain to our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world.

RACHEL JACKSON: Sure. So, basically, a group of young people, and young men, were traveling home from just being out partying in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve of 2009, and they headed home, in fact, because—they headed home from San Francisco to the East Bay in part because they were afraid that things were going to get too rowdy in the city. And because people were concerned about drunk driving and so on, the young people took BART. And sadly, it was a fateful decision, because in trying to do the right thing, what ended up happening is, is that they were basically racially profiled, attacked by police officers, and Oscar Grant was shot in the back at almost point-blank range while he was subdued on his stomach with his hands behind his back.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, your committee was formed.

RACHEL JACKSON: And yes, it was one of many things. And for a lot of us here, I mean, part of what has been so significant is—you know, about this past two weeks, is that it’s sort of a—it’s a confluence or sort of a perfect storm of people coming together and timing. And really, the naming is part of also like a celebration of Oscar Grant and the fact that we have actually been able to hold 14th and Broadway, and really, after—you know, for three years of being run out of the plaza, being subjected to martial law during Operation Verdict in Oakland, when Mehserle—the Mehserle verdict came in, and then Operation Sentencing in November, when Mehserle was sentenced.

AMY GOODMAN: The officer.

RACHEL JACKSON: There have been these huge mobilizations, unprecedented mobilizations—military, mutual aid mobilizations, with law enforcement from all over the state and Homeland Security, and the list goes on. And, you know, we’ve continued to assert our right to be at 14th and Broadway and be in the plaza, and, you know, we have fought for that space as part of Oakland’s development politically and its maturation politically.

And last night, when—really, like 12 hours ago, when—for one of the few times in, I’m sure, many people’s lives, when people chanted, "Whose streets? Our streets!" and "When Oakland is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!" that that was real, and that—you know, the night—24 hours ago, that started with the 5:00 a.m. pre-dawn vicious raid by the police on the campers at Occupy Oakland, what started with the protesters being chased and on the defensive and scattered, in 12 hours, by 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, when people learned of the early morning raid, by 5:00 or 6:00 yesterday evening, the tables had completely turned, and the initiative was with the people of the Bay Area and the people of Oakland. And really the police, despite having been—having had their huge arsenal of weapons and so on, they ended up on the defensive. And really, really, the marches and activities that went on yesterday, they were not over until we said that they were over, until the people decided it was time to go home.

And in the next period, we want to be clear, and clear to Mayor Quan and anybody else who’s involved in the decision-making process, we want the camp back. We want the camp back. We want everyone’s stuff back. We want charges dropped against protesters and an end to martial law in Oakland.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rachel Jackson, can you say a little bit about why did the police decide to strike yesterday in the morning at 5:00 a.m.? What prompted that?

RACHEL JACKSON: Well, it’s an interesting question around who makes these decisions. In some ways, there’s clearly—there are clearly tensions here in Oakland between the Police Department and law enforcement, on the one hand, and the Jean Quan, the mayor’s office, on the other, with Chief Batts stepping down just days ago or a week ago, and in part because he felt like he didn’t have the tools, frankly, of repression and racial profiling that he wanted, such as youth curfews, gang injunctions and anti-loitering laws. On the one hand, we had a disgruntled chief who stepped down, who felt like he didn’t have enough of an arsenal here and felt that the mayor wasn’t giving him what he needed, on the other hand, and then, you know, on the other hand, we have the mayor, who basically was missing in action. And so, you know, there’s these power plays, these power dynamics, that are going on.

AMY GOODMAN: The police chief referred to—the police chief referred to some kind of sexual assault?

RACHEL JACKSON: That was—that was basically like the WMDs of our struggle here, has been—has been rats—rats, sexual assault and drug use. And that’s why I say that it’s interesting to think about the decision-making process, because while clearly there are individuals who are making certain decisions, it’s—we have to look at, and be suspicious of, the fact that many of the camps all got attacked at the same time and really largely for the same reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: John Avalos, you’re a San Francisco city supervisor. You’re trying to guarantee that Occupy San Francisco doesn’t meet the same fate. Explain what you’re doing.

JOHN AVALOS: Well, yesterday I introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by three other supervisors, to call on the mayor and the Police Department to cooperate and collaborate with the Occupy movement and Occupy SF movement. And in my mind, the occupation, in and of itself, is the right to assembly and free speech, so you can’t—I would say our constitutional rights would trump any law we have here at the local level. And what the Occupy movement is about is certainly something greater than the need to contain public space, and I support it.

The resolution calls for the departments—the Police Department, the Department of Public Health and the Rec and Park Department—the main departments that are in confluence with the Occupy movement protesters, to work collaboratively on sharing space and providing resources that could benefit the movement staying in its current space or find another space where they can occupy.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what—why people are occupying, John Avalos, and what the issues you feel must be protected, and this whole issue of "We are the 99 percent," which has become the mantra, and what you feel needs to be done to protect them.

JOHN AVALOS: Well, sure, thank you. I actually represent a part of San Francisco that has a high rate of foreclosure, the 94112 zip code and as well as Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley. And my part of San Francisco has a really high level of foreclosure. A lot of households are working-class, middle-class households that were—a lot of them were taken by the subprime loan-lending crisis. And they’re now losing their wealth, which is in their homes. A lot of them are dealing with high unemployment. We have the highest unemployment rate in San Francisco. It’s about 9.7 percent in San Francisco, but much higher in our communities. In communities of color, African-American community and Latino community, it’s much higher. A lot of people are disaffected. We have a lot of—we have high homelessness of families. Often homelessness gets targeted as single adults in San Francisco, but we have families that are on our waiting list for homeless services, for housing, for emergency housing. That’s a crisis that’s rising. And so, we have a lot of people who are very frustrated with the conditions that they are living in. We are living in conditions that have not received the bailout, the respite from the federal government that we had expected would come with the bailout of the banks in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: John Avalos, this issue of the banks and foreclosures, the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has weighed such a move, including supporting not only the Occupy San Francisco encampment, but urging adoption of policies that would prompt big banks into modifying mortgages. How can the Board of Supervisors do this?

JOHN AVALOS: Well, currently, I’ve called for a study on creation of our own municipal bank here in San Francisco. And we have—our budget is $6.8 billion. And every year we actually, totally beyond our budget, with the school district and city college district, we have a $12 billion budget that goes through financial institutions in the Bay Area and around the country. And if we had a way to leverage our pocketbook to get the banks to be more accountable to supporting small businesses or to help households to avoid defaults through loan modifications or to underwrite—to write down the mortgages to the current property value of households that are underwater, we could pump more money into the local economy, we can create more jobs. That’s the idea behind it. So we’re looking at, you know, long term, the creation of a municipal bank, but in the short term, can we—do we have any leverage points on the local and banking institutions, either through divestment of our dollars into other institutions, community financial — what are they called? — community development financial institutions or credit unions that will help us more readily here at the local level?

AMY GOODMAN: John Avalos, I want to thank you for being with us, San Francisco city supervisor—

JOHN AVALOS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —and Rachel Jackson, with the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality and State Repression. Of course, we will continue to follow what’s happening at Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco, at Occupy Chicago, Occupy New York. And we’ll talk about what’s happening all over the country, as we continue to follow what the issues are that are being raised and how the state is dealing with those issues.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, Glenn Greenwald has written a new book. It’s called With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. Stay with us.

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