On January 28th, I attended Occupy Oakland’s Move-In day, with the personal understanding that OPD would attempt to prevent us from occupying a building (an action I believe to be community-focused, and needed, while also illegal). What I did not expect was that I would experience and/or witness, tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades used against a primarily non-violent crowd, in full daylight, with no discretion whatsoever.
I also did not expect to be arrested.
The day started with a rally at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza. The rally was upbeat, jovial, and inspiring. January 28th was a gorgeous day, and like most of my experiences Occupying, I felt inspired to be out amongst my community, talking, dancing, listening, and practicing humanity — which I believe is the ultimate gift of the Occupy movement. The beginning of the march held that mood. There were families, children. There was music, dancing. There was a united spirit, and an overall feeling of optimism, despite the looming police confrontation.
As someone who was not on the front lines (having chosen to remain in the back third of the 1,000+ person march), it’s hard for me to say who made the first offensive move. OPD claims they were attacked by bottles, a chain, other projectiles. It’s possible. What I do know is that a handful of people tossing bottles (or other projectiles) at armored police does not justify the use of tear gas, flash grenades, and less-than-lethal rounds (from both an ethical, and a legal perspective). These actions are specifically against OPD’s own Manual on Crowd Control (http://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/PN-CA-0018-0021.pdf). However, despite the violence being perpetrated against them, the crowd remained relatively calm. I witnessed no panic, but rather a resolve to continue the march as long as possible, and a resolve to remain together. Community at its best.
Declarations of unlawful assembly, and dispersal orders, were issued multiple times within my hearing. And disperse, we did. The crowd made their way back to the plaza to rest and recharge. I made my way home to work for a while before returning for the evening march. I arrived back downtown shortly after the march had started from the Plaza. I moved quickly to catch up, located a few familiar faces to walk with, and arrived just in time to be kettled for the first time that evening. Being kettled inside of the park was, frankly, confusing. Did they want us to disperse? Or remain in the park? The park is large, and from where I was standing, the cops were quite a ways away. I didn’t feel particularly threatened, but unsure of what the police were expecting of us. Word spread that there was not a means of egress being offered (again, a violation of OPD’s own Crowd Control policies) and OPD declared us an unlawful assembly. Lacking a means of egress, people milled around, looking for a way out.
And then OPD started tear gassing us. A contained crowd. A crowd that couldn’t disperse, despite being told to do so, and you could feel the panic begin to set in.
Some protestors (to whom I am extremely grateful) broke down one of the fences, providing a means of exit. This has, predictably, been portrayed in the MSM as violent property destruction perpetrated by protestors. To anyone who would believe this, I implore you to ask yourself: what would you do, when kettled into a park, surrounded on all sides by riot-gear-clad police, given no legal means of egress, and then tear gassed?
The march moved on from the park and up Telegraph, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”, “Non-violent protest!” and other chants. Keeping our energy, and our spirits up, all the while being trailed by OPD. About 20/25 minutes into this portion of the march (which was heading back towards downtown), we were kettled for a second time in front of the YMCA. Again, despite the claims made in some MSM, there was no intention of occupying the YMCA. That location was chosen not by Occupiers, but by OPD who opted to kettle us in there. I stood with a group, looking around, waiting for a legal means of egress to be offered. I was not part of the group of people who were let into the YMCA building by staff/residents, but rather was down on the sidewalk.
Days later, it still feels surreal that the first announcement made by OPD was, “Attention marchers: you have been given three announcements to disperse. You failed to adhere to those announcements. You are now under arrest.” While it is true that dispersal orders were given both during the daytime march, and while we were kettled in the park, OPD’s policy stipulates that when a crowd moves (this is dispersal!), a new dispersal order must be given.
But it was not. In understanding the events of that evening, it is very important that people understand that NO dispersal order was given in front of the YMCA and NO means of egress was provided. The next announcement made, seared into my memory, was, “Submit to the arrest!” I find this language disturbing, although slightly less so than hearing an officer, hours later, repeatedly refer to us (the protestors, the arrestees) as bodies. “We need to process these bodies faster.”
The cops moved in on us, and at least in the area I was in, they came in waving batons. I did not see one protestor running, hitting, fighting, and yet not only did OPD come in swinging batons, but they did so with looks of rage on their faces. The police officer nearest to me (and I was standing on the edge of the crowd) rammed my left shoulder with the end of his baton, repeatedly. There was a loud popping sound on the last hit (a sound I know now was my shoulder dislocating) and I fell down. I was hurt, and I was extremely fucking scared. I was fortunate to be nearby to a medic (who is my hero!) who not only assisted me physically, and attempted to get the police to provide me (and later, others) with medical care, but held my hand and kept me as calm as I could be, given the situation.
It took hours – many hours – but they arrested everyone inside of the kettle, which I understand amounts to over 400 people. Each one of us had our arms zip tied behind our backs, an experience that ranges from uncomfortable, to painful, depending on your body, the tightness of the zip ties and, in my case, whether or not your shoulder has been recently dislocated. I saw people with blood running down their faces. I saw a man who, I believe, had a broken leg and was also not given medical attention. I saw multiple people (but one woman in particular, who broke my heart) crying at the pain caused by their zip cuffs. Begging police officers to cut them off, and put on a new pair (and yet again, a policy stipulated by OPD’s Crowd Control Manual, blatantly ignored). I saw recognizable, and credentialed, journalists detained and arrested. I saw fear, confusion and solidarity in the eyes of protestors. And I saw fear, anger and disgust in the eyes of the police officers.
Eventually I was processed at the mobile station, which meant I was asked a variety of questions – no, I don’t have a gun, no I don’t have a knife, yes, I am a citizen, no, I do not have any outstanding warrants – and then loaded into a bus. A prison transport bus, a cage. For me, this may have been one of the scariest parts of the whole evening. Sitting in that cage, in pain and discomfort, not knowing how long we would be there, or what would happen when we arrived at Santa Rita. It was also a reminder to me of how fucking lucky I am, how much privilege I have, and how much worse this experience was for many of the other protestors.
People, though, are harder to knock down than we sometimes remember. The people on my bus were singing. Chanting. Hooting. Howling! I fell in love with all of them, in that way that you do, when you’re forced into a terrible situation, together. Together, together.
All in all, I was on the bus for one hour before it left Oakland to bring us to Santa Rita. There I was put into a holding cell with many, many more women than that cell is intended to hold. There was not sufficient space for everyone to sit, so some remained standing, and we tried to take turns. There is a toilet in the middle of the cell and despite it being a dehumanizing experience to use a toilet in the middle of a holding cell with dozens of other people, that is what we did. It had been 5 hours since we’d had access to a bathroom, after all. Or water. Or food. Or medical care. Upon arrival, we were seen by a nurse, who declared every one of us to be in good condition and not needing medical care, despite there being multiple women with lacerations and bruising, despite my shoulder, despite one or two women who I believe needed mental health services/suicide watch. The food provided was poisonous (allergic) to me, and I was laughed at when I asked for an alternative.
Here’s the crazy part – despite all of this, I got off easy. I was released with a citation a while after arriving at Santa Rita. I grabbed a ride back to Oakland and Berkeley with two other women (amazing, strong, warrior women). I did not spend 24, 48, 72 or more hours in jail. Although I sustained injury in the kettle, I was not beaten in jail (as some are being). I was not denied medications that I am medically required to take (as some are being). I was not kept in a closed room for over 24 hours in tear gassed clothing so that my skin, my eyes, my lungs were burning, burning, burning (as some are being). I do not have a prior arrest record, or a complicated (and unjust) immigration status.
I do, however, have to call the DA’s office daily to find out if charges are being filed against me. The DA has one year in which to file charges, and one of the delightful oppression games being played (in Oakland) is to wait to file charges, and then issue a warrant. People are being arrested on warrants they didn’t know, couldn’t know, existed, deprived of the right to obtain legal counsel, to appear for their own arraignments.
And I’m pissed.
The civil rights (to assemble, to march, to be heard) of myself, and over 1,000 other people, were trampled (again) by the OPD (with the blessing of Jean Quan and her administration). The policies laid out by OPD that require police officers to restrain themselves, to give proper notice and warning, to use a minimal amount of force, and to use _discretionary_ force were blatantly tossed aside. The human rights (to water, to medical care, to not be kept in pain and discomfort for no reason) of over 400 people were violently ignored.
In the weeks leading up to January 28th, I had spent less time at Occupy. I had attended almost no meetings, and only 1 General Assembly. I needed time to myself, time for the rest of my life, time to recharge. I was, in retrospect, burning out.
Thank you, brutal and oppressive OPD, for reigniting my fire.
(Link to annotated video shot by Citizen Journalist @OakFoSHo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTum1mSpkK8)
With Love, Rage & Solidarity-