Clergy members defend Occupy camp after fatal shooting
on November 11, 2011
At a Friday afternoon press conference outside the Interfaith Tent on Frank Ogawa Plaza, at the edge of the Occupy Oakland encampment, nine clergy members from around the East Bay made impassioned statements to media and passersby in defense of the camp following renewed calls to dismantle it in the wake of the fatal shooting nearby the night before.
“It was an isolated incident,” said Pentecostal Baptist minister Preston Walker, who has taken up residence in the interfaith tent and watches over it on behalf of the clergy group. Walker said he saw the shooting, which took place in front of the interfaith tent. The victim, Walker said, was standing behind him when he was shot.
“I should be dead,” Walker said before the conference. But the camp, he insisted, must not be blamed for the incident. “It could’ve happened anywhere in Oakland,” Walker said. “It just happened here.”
City leaders have been under pressure from business interests and some members of the city council to dismantle the Occupy camp, which now hosts around 160 tents. Following the shooting Thursday night, critics have renewed their demands, insisting that the camp has become the magnet for crime in the middle of downtown Oakland.
The Occupy Oakland encampment was established on October 10, and residents and supporting protesters were preparing to celebrate its one-month anniversary when the shooting took place.
Several clergy, dressed in collars and stolls, described their own experience in the camp to the media on Friday and reaffirmed their commitment to Occupy. The Reverend Rita Nakashima Brock, a Disciples of Christ pastor from Oakland, also read two statements—one, signed by 30 East Bay clergy, calling on city leaders to keep the encampment in place, and a second espousing a commitment to nonviolence.
One of the first clergy to speak at the conference, the Reverend Brian “BK” Woodson of the Oakland church Bay Area Christian Connection, said the murder underscored the need for the camp to remain.
Speaking about the Occupy protest in its entirety, Woodson said the nation is on the verge of a period of tremendous change, perhaps similar to the so-called Arab Spring earlier this year.
“There was what was called the Arab Spring,” he said. “Perhaps now we begin what will be called the American Fall.”
To a chorus of “Amens” from the clergy and members of the crowd, he said, “This murder was not part of this change—but part of what must be changed.”
Jeremy Nickel, a minister from the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fremont, invited the media to look beyond official opinions when considering the camp. “You’ve been told that this encampment attracts violence,” Nickel said. “You’ve been told this is an encampment that is disorganized. Well, I’ve been in there. I’ve been at their general assemblies. I’ve been down here at our tent. I’ve been leading conversations and I can tell you that is not what has been going on in this camp.”
All the clergy who spoke emphasized the camp’s purpose as standing against social inequality and asked that city leaders allow it to remain in place.
That message stands in defiance of the message delivered by Mayor Quan and some members of the city council whose insist that Thursday’s murder proves the camp is a magnet for violent activity.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.