In a few hours before dawn, Frank Ogawa Plaza went from a lively tent city to an empty ghost town.
At around 5:30 Tuesday morning, Oakland police raided two Occupy Oakland encampments, the main one at Frank Ogawa Plaza that had grown to house more than 100 protestors, and a smaller site at Snow Park near Lake Merritt.
Since setting up camp on October 10, Occupy Oakland—taking its name from other “Occupy” movements across the country—had grown to be a fully functioning city. City officials began issuing eviction notices last Thursday, citing health and safety reasons, warning that those who did not cease camping overnight could be arrested.
Several hundred officers began arriving at Frank Ogawa Plaza at around 4:30 Tuesday morning. They were greeted with chants of “Cops go home!” and “You are the 99 percent!” as protesters barricaded the camp with rolling dumpsters, crates, and trashcans. Police issued warnings over a megaphone that arrests would be made if protestors did not leave the camp.
Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said around 30 campers complied with orders and left peacefully.
At around 5:15, police officers wearing riot gear began advancing on the encampment, removing the barricades. Two loud booms could be heard, and a white gas filled the air.
As OPD officers made their way through the camp, one of the first tents to be taken down was the kitchen tent. Pans could be heard falling to the ground as officers pushed one of the metal racks down.
“Police came from all directions,” said Michael Parkansky, who had been living in the camp since October 11. Parkansky said he left willingly because the protesters were outnumbered. “I would have stayed and rallied if we had the numbers, but the ratio of police to protesters was four-to-one,” he said.
About 100 police officers marched from the plaza down to Snow Park, the site of the smaller Occupy Oakland encampment, at 19th Street and Harrison. “I saw a large caravan of police coming down the lake and then, boom, all of the sudden there were a lot of cops ready to go,” said Ethan, 22, a protester who declined to give his last name.
Those who refused to comply with police orders were arrested. Jordan said 75 arrests were made, and that most would be charged with misdemeanor unlawful assembly or unlawful lodging, while some would be charged with felonies.
Ousted campers and protesters took to the streets and tipped over dumpsters, and garbage cans. Some protesters shouted and pushed against police barricades at Broadway and 14th Street. At about 8:30 the barricade was broken by several angry protestors and a line of police officers rushed towards the barricade.
“Get back! Get back!” shouted a police officer, pointing a rifle at the protesters. When the gun appeared, protesters backed up and the scuffle dissipated. The intersection was blocked for several minutes before police could force protestors back to the east side of Broadway.
Although a small number of the protesters screamed or spat at police, most along the barricades stood peacefully in front of the police line. “Join us! Join us!” they called to police officers.
“They’re going to lay you off next,” a protester shouted.
“They’re the 99 percent, too, and they don’t even know it,” said one person in the crowd.
By 9:10, most of the tents at City Center had been taken down. The grassy area in the plaza where the encampment had been was littered with debris.
By 10 am, all of the tents had been completely dismantled and flattened, as police in riot gear maintained a barricade around the plaza. Inside the plaza, a crew of about 12 people wearing neon yellow and orange vests sifted through blankets, sleeping bags, and stuffed animals, putting numbered tags on personal property and taking an inventory of the items left behind.
“I live there,” said Pooda Miller, a 21-year-old homeless woman who lived in the plaza before it became tent city. “What am I going to do now?”
“The eviction was senseless,” said Kevin Skipper, 30, who had been camping with the protesters since they arrived. “To have to occupy the park to engage in public discussion and demand our rights it ridiculous. But it is more ridiculous for the police to break up a camp that wasn’t dangerous, that meant no threat to the public.”
“I would really like to get my bicycle,” said a woman who identified herself as Enola D, who had been living in the plaza for two weeks. “I live in Oakland, I just spent the past two weeks with all these people, and we had this one thing in common. It was really beautiful. I just want my bike. I asked the cops so nicely.”
Meanwhile, city and OPD officials organized a press conference at Oakland City Hall. At the press conference, Jordan said he was “very pleased with the way things went” because there were no injuries to officers or the people arrested, and minimal damage to property in the plaza. Jordan said the OPD had coordinated a joint effort between more than fifteen local law enforcement agencies including the California Highway Patrol and officers from police departments in Berkeley, UC Berkeley, Alameda, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Newark, Pleasanton, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara and Solano County.
Jordan did not specify the exact number of officers in the operation, but he did confirm that Oakland police officers used tear gas and beanbag rounds—but not rubber bullets—against the protestors after being pelted with rocks, bottles and kitchen utensils. Jordan also said the protesters set off firecrackers.
“In the end, I think we allowed people to exercise their freedom of speech and their right to assemble, and they will be given that right again to peacefully assemble,” he said. “We want to make sure the message is clear that the city is not going to allow overnight camping or lodging any longer.”
City Administrator Deanna Santana said fire hazards, sanitation, food storage, unsafe structures, and noise violations had all been concerns for city officials. “I have an obligation and a responsibility to uphold public health and safety,” she said. “I could not do that under the circumstances, and I made a decision with the team that was in place to put an end to what I see as a really critical situation that posed a significant risk.”
Quan said Frank Ogawa Plaza will continue to be open as a free speech area from 6 am to 10 pm, and that the city’s public works, safety, and communications departments will work together to restore conditions “so that it is available for public use.”
Santana said the “goal is to clean up the plaza as soon as possible,” and that the “city remains committed to respecting free speech, as well as maintaining the city’s responsibility to public health and safety.”
Her office issued a bulletin Tuesday morning saying that Frank Ogawa Plaza would remain closed “until public health and safety conditions can be improved; this includes debris, human waste and hazardous materials removal.” The bulletin urged people to not enter the plaza and for city and downtown employees to return to work, but carry their IDs to be allowed inside government buildings. As of midday Tuesday, a police barricade surrounded the plaza.
On their website, Occupy Oakland protesters have urged people to “reconverge” at the Oakland Public Library Main Branch at 4 pm. They also said that Snow Park was “reoccupied by 10 am” with several tents popping up after the morning raid.
“Occupy Oakland is not finished, it has only begun,” the website said.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
Reporting for this article was contributed by Monica Cruz-Rosas, Adam Grossberg, Amna Hassan, Byrhonda Lyons, Ryan Phillips, Brittany Schell, Catherine Traywick and Amina Waheed. Photo slideshow compiled by Jessie Schiewe.