There’s been a lot reported on Occupy Oakland’s J28 Move-In Day. A lot of time has been given in the media to lurid images of vandalism and burning flags. The establishment has spared no expense in feeding the official line to the press, accusing activists of burglary and property destruction. It would be laughable to say anyone knows for certain everything that happened on the 28th, but it is safe to say the official version is far from the truth. This is my best effort to piece together what happened that day from what I know and saw that afternoon, the accounts of activists, journalists, and video footage shot on the spot by citizen-journalists. This is their story.
When the day started, the marchers in Oscar Grant Plaza were exuberant with energy, primed and ready for the first major action by Oakland for 2012. Hundreds had filled the square to hear the speakers and dance to the performances of local artists. The day was beautiful, turnout was looking great, and everyone was excited and pumped up. The air was buzzing with excitement and the roar of OPD helicopters. More were streaming in, swelling our numbers from hundreds to thousands.
A little after 1pm we set out. I was riding out in front of the march with the cyclists, helping scout out the march route and keep an eye out for the police. We almost immediately ran into trouble in the first of many confrontations with the police that day. A police car had pulled over the sound truck two blocks away from Oscar Grant. We got marched as quickly as we could, hoping a massed crowd could get the police to back away from the truck. The police car pulled away the minute we turned the corner. Relieved and exhilarated the truck crew turned on the music setting the crowd’s feet dancing.
Far ahead of the dancing marchers I rode with the other cyclists, keeping our eyes out for the OPD. Within fifteen minutes of our setting out we spotted a line of police in riot gear forming up on 10th and Oak. They blocked off the street announcing they would use force if necessary on the loudspeakers. We quickly rode back and updated the marchers, who pressed on straight ahead and turned onto 9th street, marching towards Laney Community College.
Very quickly we got lost in a maze of concrete corridors and narrow hallways. The march slowed to a crawl as we plowed through the campus. Then we saw the police blocking off all of the exits on the eastern side of the school. They ordered the cyclists to stay away, threatening force if we didn’t. Other scouts came back, reporting the police had blocked off the north side leaving us few options for leaving Laney College. Luckily one exit had not been covered by the police, but to get there the entire march would have to move over a narrow footbridge. Facing the threat of the Oakland police everyone moved as fast as they could, barely escaping the first attempt by the police to kettle the march.
We marched out of the college and came up around the corner of the Kaiser Convention Center. We marched up to the fence, shouting by People’s Mic we were coming to appropriate the center for the benefit of the people. The police declared we were an unlawful assembly and ordered us to disperse. The march stood its ground and the police opened fire. Gas cartridges flew into the crowd, inspiring panic. People shrieked “Gas!”
The crowd recoiled, then surged forward tearing down the fence and moving across the lawn. The police kept firing as some activists threw rocks and hurled smoke bombs back at the line. People moved up to the fence and screamed, “Who do you work for?” as activists stood their ground before falling back to the road. We moved quickly up 12th leaving the police and the Kaiser Center behind. Then we came to Oak Street.
I was riding out ahead up and down Madison Street keeping an eye out for the police. We warned the marchers that police were shadowing us on 13th Street. After some discussion the march turned and moved west down Oak Street. I rode ahead on Madison, spotting the police as they rushed to Oak Street forming a line. Other scouts spotted the police moving up to 12th, sealing off the march’s escape. When I heard the loud crack of flashbangs and saw the floating clouds of gas I rode back to the march as fast as I could.
I came on to the Battle of Oak Street just after the first volley finished. The Black Bloc was up in front with a line of shields and barricades, blocking police fire. Activists rained abuse and insults on the Oakland police while a handful of more militant demonstrators threw chunks of charcoal, rocks, and in one case a chair. Without warning the cops opened fire.
I dropped down to the ground behind my bike, watching as the clouds of gas floated in the street for a moment before the wind blew it back into the cops’ faces. We laughed and jeered at them as they continued to fire. Three flashbangs exploded in the middle of the barricade and the police charged. We ran as fast as we could. Other marchers were running away from 12th Street with the police close behind. Screams and cries of “Medic!” flew freely as we fled.
Luckily there was only one motorcycle cop on 11th Street. We charged up the street barely two steps ahead of the police. We stopped for a minute to catch our breath before heading back to Oscar Grant Plaza. After that I headed home to upload pictures I had taken from the demonstration and process all of what happened. Little did I know the day would only grow worse.
Close to 6 PM Occupy Oakland set out again. After the repulse from the Kaiser Center and Oak Street they decided to regroup and move on the new building. This time the police were much quicker to move bottling the march up in Henry J. Kaiser Park. The moment was tense as the police moved in when activists spotted an unguarded fence. They made a break for it.
The march rallied and set out when the police cornered Occupy in front of the YMCA. They surrounded the Occupiers, cutting off all possibility of dispersal or escape. A handful pounded on the doors of the Y getting the staff’s attention and pleading to escape through the building. The YMCA Staff graciously opened the doors to a cheering crowd as the police charged up the steps. Some were able to escape through the back exits. Most didn’t.
The police arrested everyone on the spot. Activists were forced to sit in the street for hours while the police rounded everyone up. 409 people were arrested that night. Reporters were zip-tied with the rest of the Occupiers in spite of valid press passes. They were all crammed into tight vans and shipped off to jail. At Santa Rita (interview begins at 6:00) the police forced arrested activists into tiny cells, crowding them beyond capacity. Many were denied access to a phone or restroom. One Occupier, who suffered from a serious medical condition, was denied medicine. Of all the activists picked up that night and held in the tiny cells only 12 face criminal charges.