Occupy Oakland Arrests Galvanize Movement
MANHATTAN (CN) - Mass arrests of Occupy Oakland protesters on Saturday reanimated sister protests around the country, rousing many Occupy Wall Street sympathizers out of winter hibernation the following night for "Solidarity Sunday."
More than 400 people - including six journalists - were reportedly arrested in Oakland on Saturday, as thousands tried to convert the long-vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center into the movement's new headquarters.
Oakland sent hundreds of police officers in riot gear to prevent them from entering the building, which has been shuttered for six years.
Occupy Oakland blasted the city's priorities in a press release.
"With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority," organizers asked in a statement. "Was it worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent?"
Oakland police said they fired tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets at the thousands of demonstrators after some bottles were thrown at them.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan blamed a "very radical, violent" contingent for the day's ugly turn, citing reports that a small group burned an American flag and vandalized City Hall.
Organizers replied that all but a handful of the thousand-plus marchers were peaceful, and that Oakland police violated their own guidelines with their heavy-handed response.
As reported by Alternet: "The guidelines state that less-lethal munitions 'may never be used indiscriminately against a crowd or group of persons, even if some members of the crowd or group are violent or disruptive.'"
Occupy movements responded with "Solidarity Sunday" plans in Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, New York and other cities.
Occupy Wall Street, where the movement began, had seen a decline in its numbers in recent months, but several hundreds gathered in Washington Square Park the night after the Oakland arrests. Declaring "New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York," the protesters began zigzagging through the streets of Manhattan. Marchers spilled several times into the streets, at one point filling Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street.
Avoiding mass arrests, police made examples of individuals they suspected of stepping onto the streets.
One protester, "Easton," said that the police nabbed the wrong man, in one instance.
"Basically, what I saw is that I think he was on the sidewalk," he said. "I saw one police officer tackle him, and another police officer kneed his face when they took him down. And they acted like he was resisting when he wasn't."
Easton said he did not know the name of the activist whose arrest he witnessed.
With or without protesters on the street, the procession diverted traffic. Throughout the night, police closed off roads, and drove cars and vans against traffic on one-way streets. Many New Yorkers rubber-necked the march from their apartment and office windows, as it snaked through Chelsea, Murray Hill, the East Village and the Lower East Side.
Mirroring the Oakland protests, activists set their sights on an abandoned building, the Charas / El Bohio Cultural and Community Center on East 9th Street, which organizers said could be put to better use.
The New York Times reported that the Puerto Rican community center was sold in 2001 to developer Gregg Singer, who has left it shuttered for more than a decade. Occupy marchers pounded the building's blue scaffolding on Sunday, and police arrested one of the activists for trying to climb over it.
Activists addressed the largely Latino community in Spanish, "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido," a translation of "The people united will never be defeated."
The impromptu parade finished at nearby Tompkins Square Park, which activist Edward T. Hall III announced was the site of "police riot" in 1989. The New York Times also characterized the event as a police riot in an editorial at the time.
Although Occupy Wall Street has long tried to charm police into joining the "99 percent," the attitude soured amid mounting evictions, arrests and other crackdowns around the country.
Some protesters chanted, "From Oakland to Greece / Fuck the police."
Another chant taunted the recent scandals rocking New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly.
This month, Kelly has faced increasing pressure to resign over his participating in "The Third Jihad," an anti-Muslim documentary shown repeatedly to the officers. Days after Kelly's voluntary participation came to light, a woman accused his son, Fox news journalist Greg Kelly, of raping and impregnating her.
Kelly has not been charged, but the District Attorney's Office is investigating.
Protesters on Sunday chanted: "Ray Kelly is a racist. His son is a rapist."
There were other calls to keep the protest positive, with another couplet telling the helmet-clad officers: "I don't see no riot here. Take off your riot gear."
By the end of the night, police arrested 12 marchers they suspected of tossing bottles, straying onto the streets and other conduct.