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Occupy Oakland arrests reach 400; City Hall vandalized

Saturday's daylong protest was the most contentious since authorities dismantled the Occupy Oakland encampment late last year.

January 30, 2012|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times
  • Police officers stand near graffiti while guarding City Hall in Oakland, Calif., after Saturday's Occupy Oakland protest.
Police officers stand near graffiti while guarding City Hall in Oakland,… (Noah Berger, Associated…)

Reporting from Oakland — Officials surveyed damage Sunday from a volatile Occupy protest that resulted in hundreds of arrests the day before and left the historic City Hall vandalized after demonstrators broke into the building, smashed display cases, cut electrical wires and burned an American flag.

Police placed the number of arrests at about 400 from Saturday's daylong protest — the most contentious since authorities dismantled the Occupy Oakland encampment late last year.

Mayor Jean Quan condemned the local movement's tactics as "a constant provocation of the police with a lot of violence toward them" and said the demonstrations were draining scarce resources from an already strapped city. Damage to the City Hall plaza alone has cost $2 million since October, she said, about as much as police overtime and mutual aid.

Oakland has logged five homicides since Friday, and Police Chief Howard Jordan said the law enforcement "personnel and resources dedicated to Occupy reduce our ability to focus on public safety priorities."

The Occupy action was publicized by the group as a planned takeover of a vacant building that would be "repurposed" as a "social center, convergence center and headquarters of the Occupy Oakland movement." In an open letter to Quan on Wednesday, the group warned that if police attempted to thwart the takeover, "indefinite occupation" of Oakland's airport, port and City Hall could follow.

Police prevented an afternoon attempt by protesters to enter the city's idled Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. Demonstrators then headed to the nearby Oakland Museum of California, where arrests occurred after an order to disperse was ignored. One officer suffered a cut to his face when a demonstrator threw a bicycle at him, another suffered a cut hand and a third was bruised, Watson said. At least one demonstrator was injured.

Later in the night, marchers entered the downtown Oakland YMCA, where hundreds of arrests took place. The City Hall break-in occurred about the same time, officials said.

Throughout the action, some demonstrators threw bottles, rocks, burning flares and other objects at officers. In a tactic that officials said they had not previously encountered, protesters also moved in on the police line carrying elaborate shields. One, displayed at City Hall on Sunday, was about 6 by 4 feet and built of corrugated metal on wood panels, complete with multiple handles. "Commune Move In" was painted on the front.

Occupy Oakland's media committee issued a statement condemning the police response, saying officers did not give demonstrators enough time to disperse before moving in to make mass arrests.

"Contrary to their own policy, the OPD gave no option of leaving or instruction on how to depart," the group said in a news release. "These arrests are completely illegal, and this will probably result in another class action lawsuit against the OPD, who have already cost Oakland $58 million in lawsuits over the past 10 years."

The Police Department is under a federal consent decree stemming from civil rights violations by officers more than a decade ago. A federal judge this month ordered all administrative and policy decisions to first be cleared with a court-appointed monitor.

The department's heavy-handed initial response to last fall's Occupy protests did not help its reputation. The use of tear gas and other projectiles on largely peaceful demonstrators Oct. 25 made international news after a military veteran was struck in the head and seriously injured.

But Quan said Sunday she believed officers had modified their tactics to better single out troublemakers.

"We're tired of one faction using Oakland as their playground," Quan said of demonstrators intent on clashing with police.

Of the first 20 people arrested, she noted, only three were from Oakland. Prosecutors will seek stay-away orders for some of the demonstrators, she added. Such orders were given to a number of people arrested in previous Occupy activity, and Quan said it wasn't clear whether any of them were arrested Saturday.

Oakland officials also will seek monetary damages from protesters, Quan said. In addition, the mayor said she would pursue "restorative justice" by asking that those deemed guilty be put to work picking up garbage and removing graffiti in East Oakland.

In a morning tour of the damaged City Hall, Quan pointed out that a room with a smashed door and toppled soda machine is used for classes for low-income, first-time homeowners. Several flags that had adorned the grand staircase were missing.

City Council agendas and trash littered the floor in the building's grand lobby. Although some graffiti had already been removed, evidence of the previous night's mayhem was visible in broken display cases.

Near the door, a more than century-old architectural model of the regal structure was toppled in its case. Oakland's City Hall was built after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and restored after the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor.

"It's really a symbol of how resilient Oakland is," Quan said of the building. "And we'll survive this too."

lee.romney@latimes.com

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