“I couldn’t even see in, I could just hear people screaming over the walkie-talkie,” the young woman is wearing a hand-knit green cap.
It makes me feel oddly synchronized with her, because it reminds me of a pattern I was just looking at yesterday and thinking about making myself. It’s hard to imagine having either the time or serenity to knit now, though. The very notion of it strikes me as ridiculously ironic.
The green-capped woman looks around at the devastation again. Just yesterday, she said, this plaza was a beautiful bustling town of tents and signs and free food and medical care for anyone who needed it. Now, it looks like a hurricane hit it. Tents are everywhere, ripped open by razors, their guts of toys and sleeping bags and sweatshirts pouring out from their cuts onto the chalked sidewalks. There are broken wooden chairs and bookshelves where the Freeschool once stood.
The young woman tells us, again and again, how she was patrolling security last night when the police came. “There may have been an order to disperse,” she says, “But I never heard one.” She had been walking the perimeter of the camp when the police started coming from everywhere – up from the Bart Station, out of the California Building, straight off the freeway. Over 500 officers from over one dozen Bay Area law enforcement agencies surrounded the encampment at 4:30AM this morning and by 5:30 had used tear-gas, pepper spray, and “less-lethal” beanbag rounds fired from shotguns to take the plaza.
“People were being dragged across the ground. I saw one guy with an officer sitting on his head,” she says. “I have never seen anything like this in my life. We expected a raid – maybe something like what they did to Occupy SF. But this was so violent.”
Officer J. Watson – the Oakland PD public info officer – rounds up those of us who were crafty or lucky enough to persuade the police that we are members of the press and tells us that in spite of what Chief Jordan told to us earlier, we won’t be able to photograph or examine the actual occupation grounds themselves, only film from the outside perimeter. An angry murmur goes up among the crowd, many of whom actually are members of the press. They want to be able to do their job, and most especially, look into claims by the City of Oakland that the reason the camp was raided was to enforce fire codes and concerns about sanitation. Again, the excuse about sanitation is used. “We can’t let you in because of the hazardous waste – there may be human feces,” the officer says.
My green-capped friend points to the 9 porta-potties paid for by the local teacher’s union. “We never had any problems with sanitation!” But the officers ignore her.
There are many grounds that the police used as reasons for raiding the camp last night –
everything from the poop claim to contending that Emergency Medical Services have been denied entry into the camp when called and that the kitchen was using open flames to cook. All of these claims are staunchly denied by Occupy Oakland. They were using barbeques for cooking and their medical teams worked closely with EMS, they say.
There are lots of unanswered questions, or questions with answers that don’t muster. A member of the Labor Union media asks how the City of Oakland can justify the expense of the kind of police force used last night against the protesters, such as the three $8,000 helicopters currently hovering overhead and the tank-like police vehicles that line 14th Street, especially when services and pensions are being cut. A member of the Occupy Citizens Newswire asks why Snow Park, the smaller Occupy Oakland encampment, was raided after 6AM when that is technically when the park would be open to the public. A journalist from a local news station asks why the Mayor is unavailable to answer questions.
Perhaps the most difficult answer to swallow, however, is when a reporter asks the chief of police if he’s happy with how things went last night. He says that he is. “There were no injuries to our officers, or to citizens in the plaza.”
I know, as do many of the reporters and “reporters” at the press conference, that’s absolutely not possible. But Oakand’s new police chief says it with such genuineness that you could almost believe it. He also tells us, with apparent friendliness, that we will be allowed to come back and exercise our first amendment rights once the plaza is cleared– but only during the park’s operating hours, from 6am-10pm everyday.
This afternoon, Occupy Oakland – except the 90-some arrested during this morning’s raid – will gather at 4pm to regroup and decide their next step. The crowd gathered around the scattered remains of the old occupation are singing, chanting, and yelling at riot cops who maintain the barricades. There is resistance in the air. I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe that we’ll settle for assembling and airing our grievances during normal business hours only.