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Occupy Oakland debated at public forum

Hundreds of Oakland residents cram into City Hall to defend or criticize the movement, decry the violence and reach consensus about what comes next. Consensus seemed to be far off, however.

November 04, 2011|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times
  • Cleaners remove graffiti at the site of an Occupy Oakland protest.
Cleaners remove graffiti at the site of an Occupy Oakland protest. (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Reporting from Oakland -- Several hundred residents crammed into Oakland City Hall on Thursday evening to debate this city's Occupy movement, decry the violence that has marred it and attempt to reach some consensus about what comes next.

But as the meeting wore on, that seemed unlikely.

Molly Bolt approached the lectern, her baby in her arms. The 30-year-old's voice shook as she chided city leaders for razing the protesters' original encampment.

PHOTOS: Occupy Oakland

"You cannot beat us into submission," Bolt said. "You are just beating on the bricks of a loose dam."

When Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan spoke, he was met with cries of "lies" when he asserted that officers had used tear gas and other projectiles only after being attacked by protesters.

The City Council president called for order.

The crowd called on Jordan to resign.

The meeting came one day after a citywide protest had drawn more than 7,000 largely peaceful demonstrators before devolving once again into violence.

Riot police arrested more than 100 people in the pre-dawn hours Thursday who had taken over an empty building, armed themselves with bottles, rocks and firecrackers, and set blazes. Five protesters and three officers were injured, Jordan said.

Many who spoke at City Hall expressed pride over the massive turnout and downplayed the conflict.

"I am here to say that yesterday was a beautiful and amazing day," resident Pamela Drake said. "What happened late last night should not overshadow what a beautiful thing happened."

But business leaders voiced a starkly different message.

"The situation we find ourselves in is absolutely unacceptable," said Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Joe Haraburda. "We have made our position clear.… We want Occupy Oakland closed."

That situation was in full display around the Civic Center area as city workers boarded up shattered store windows and scrubbed away graffiti. Meanwhile, Occupy Oakland activists struggled to distance their movement from the vandals they said were intent on co-opting its message.

Officials characterized those arrested as a relatively small group of black-clad provocateurs who favor face masks and confrontational tactics. But the violence stung the body of  protesters occupying the encampment near City Hall.

"We have never ever acted like this in this democratic stronghold," said Regi Hayes, a 35-year-old artist, as he took his turn at the camp microphone earlier Thursday and  pointed to a "stream of negativity" — including signs that said: "Kill the cops."

In an effort to make amends to area business owners, Occupy Oakland supporters donned rubber gloves and joined the cleanup. A sign someone posted amid the damage read: "This is not the story."

"I don't like it," said a subdued Leandro Marques,  a 33 -year-old audio engineer who came from his home in Berkeley when he saw the damage on several blogs.

"We've been protesting to change inequality that's been going on in this country for a long time, and I want it to be focused," he said as he scrubbed. "We don't want our movement to become an anarchist movement."

But for some, the protesters' goodwill gestures may not be enough.

Noemi Perez, 42, who manages The Juice Joint in the plaza, said a customer came in Thursday to apologize for her absence these last few weeks. "She said she didn't want to come down here," said Perez, whose business has dropped markedly.

"We are happy because we are OK," she said of her unscathed storefront. "On the other hand we don't feel good because everything is dirty … and broken."

PHOTOS: Occupy Oakland

lee.romney@latimes.com

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