More than 400 Occupy Oakland demonstrators and a number of journalists were arrested in a violent confrontation on Jan. 28 when protesters attempted to convert a vacant building into a community center. Several hours later, a group of protesters separated from the crowd and entered City Hall, allegedly vandalizing the inside of the building.
The events were part of a demonstration called "Move-In Day," a plan to use the indoor base of Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center as headquarters for Occupy Oakland protesters to hold General Assemblies and for shelter during the winter, according to occupyoaklandmoveinday.org. The police response to the protesters' efforts entailed using tear gas, bean bag projectiles and flash grenades to disperse the crowd, according to a Jan. 30 Democracy Now! article.
"They are more interested in protecting abandoned private property than they are the people," Occupy Oakland member Maria Lewis said on Democracy Now!
Most of the protesters who were arrested have already been released. Eight demonstrators are charged with misdemeanors and four face felony charges, according to a Feb. 1 San Francisco Chronicle article.
The running total of nationwide Occupy arrests is 6,300 protesters, according to @OccupyArrests' twitter feed.
Alameda County prosecutors have sought and won stay-away orders on 12 of the charged Occupy Oakland demonstrators who participated in the "Move-In Day" demonstration. Judges ordered them to stay 300 yards away from Frank Ogawa Plaza, the local movement's focal point since its initiation in early October, according to the Chronicle.
The demonstrators' defense attorneys have pledged to fight the stay-away orders.
"It's unconstitutional," defense attorney David Briggs told the Chronicle on Feb. 1. "They have a right to freedom of assembly, the right to free speech. The stay-away order has nothing to do with the charges."
Restricting protesters from access to public property presents serious constitutional concerns to free speech rights, according to Linda Lye, staff attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Although government can carry out actions to protect public safety, they must not be executed with intent to inhibit, curb or chill speech, Lye said in a Jan. 24 Alternet story.
"The First Amendment looks very skeptically on the government singling out the message people are communicating or targeting people because they've previously engaged in First Amendment activity," she said.
Several hours after attempting to occupy the Kaiser Convention Center, a group of protesters entered City Hall, saying that they found the door ajar and allegedly smashed cases, broke windows and burned an American flag among other acts of vandalism, according to a Jan. 30 USA Today article. Oakland City Council Member Ignacio De La Fuente asserted that police acted appropriately and the Occupy demonstrators engaged in domestic terrorism, according to USA Today.
"With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority? - Occupy Oakland Media Committee
"The idea that opening up a social center is terrorism is very telling of the narrative of the police state," Lewis said for Democracy Now in regard to Fuente's comments.
The Oakland Police Department released a surveillance video documentation of the events. The video documentation does not provide evidence of all of the alleged acts of vandalism that the Oakland police initially accused demonstrators of carrying out, other than breaking in and burning a flag, according to a Bay Citizen article.
"The protesters' objective was not to peacefully assemble and march, but to seek opportunity to further criminal acts, confront police and repeatedly attempt to illegally occupy buildings," said Chief Howard Jordan of the Oakland Police Department in a Jan. 29 New York Times article.
The Occupy Oakland Media Committee issued a statement on Jan. 29 claiming Oakland police forces have violated their police department's code of conduct and arrested demonstrators illegally, according to the New York Times.
"The police actions tonight cost the City of Oakland hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they repeatedly violated their own crowd-control guidelines and protesters' civil rights," the statement said. "With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority? Was it worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent?"
Occupy Indiana protesters marched on Jan. 29 in Indianapolis to express solidarity with the Jan. 28 Occupy Oakland events, according to USA Today. Occupy protesters in Indianapolis preparing to utilize the 2012 Super Bowl media spotlight to rally for union rights in front of the statehouse.
"They are more interested in protecting abandoned private property than they are the people." - Maria Lewis, Occupy Oakland
Protesters held a demonstration rally in opposition to the "right-to-work" legislation Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law on Feb. 2. The measure will result lower wages and diminished bargaining rights, according to a Feb. 3 Democracy Now! article. Green Party candidate Jill Stein was also scheduled to rally with supporters and labor movement advocates at Occupy Super Bowl Sunday.
The National Football League Players Association supports Indiana workers, calling the measure "a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers' rights," according to Democracy Now!.
"It is absolutely shameful that the legislature passed a law that condemns unions and is now using the city to showcase Indianapolis while ordinary people in Indiana are completely opposed to this law," said Tithi Bhattacharya, associate professor of South Asian History at Purdue University said for Democracy Now.
Diana Petrova can be reached at email@example.com.