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As night falls, Occupy May Day protesters in downtown Oakland face off with police

on May 1, 2012

After an afternoon of largely peaceful protests, confrontation erupted between police and protesters in downtown Oakland after nightfall.

By about 8 pm, a crowd of approximately 2,000 people had gathered at Frank Ogawa Plaza, mostly milling about. Then an Occupy protester announced through a loudspeaker than anyone who did not want to confront the police should leave via the nearby BART station, and the crowd began to thin.

Police officers issue a dispersal order at 14th Street and Broadway. Photo by Adam Grossberg.

A brief confrontation erupted shortly after 8 pm, when a middle aged white man wearing a three-piece suit and glasses appeared on the south side of Broadway and began to silently observe the crowd. Protesters began to ask him why he was there, telling him he wasn’t welcome and saying “Pig, go home.” The man then began to film the crowd on his cell phone, telling them he would post the video on YouTube. A member of the crowd knocked the phone from his hand, and the suited man accused him of assault. A crowd of eventually 40 or 50 people formed around the man, shouting, with some people throwing crumpled paper at him and telling him to go home. A man in the crowd thrust a hand at him, and the crowd chanted “Shake that hand,” but the man in the suit refused to shake it. About a dozen police officers in riot gear then escorted the man away towards the Clorox building.

Shortly after 8:30, a police officer was seen tackling a protester, although Oakland North reporters standing nearby were not able to determine what had precipitated the incident. Then suddenly the crowd and the police both began to move.

At 8:35, police officers announced that an unlawful assembly had been declared, shot a single flash bang grenade, and gave the crowd five minutes to disperse. Crowd members were warned that physical force as well as chemical weapons would be used on those who did not disperse, and police began ordering people to leave by moving north on Broadway. Officer warned people to leave via the sidewalk and announced that anyone who remained in the street could be arrested. Officers began to form police lines, closing off Broadway at the 14th Street intersection, as helicopters with search lights circled overhead.

As the police formed lines along the intersection of Broadway and 14th Streets, a lone protester walked towards them with hands raised. Photo by Adam Grossberg.

Shortly afterward, a group of Occupy protesters gathered in the intersection at 14th Street and Broadway, setting up metal barricades and throwing glass bottles and paint bombs at the officers. Three times, a group of ten to twenty officers rushed into the center of the street, grabbed the barricades, and removed them to behind the police line. Each time, the Occupy group would scatter and then re-form.

At 8:45, police officers ran down the street and formed another line at 15th and Broadway. An Oakland North reporter inside of the Awaken Cafe at Broadway and 15th Street witnessed a crowd of police officers running at full speed in what looked like an attempt to move the protesters. She witnessed one person being arrested, and other officers carrying plastic tie handcuffs.

The police continued to press the crowd further along the street, issuing a second dispersal order for the 1700 and 1900 blocks of Broadway, and once again warned people to stay on the sidewalks. In the chaotic scene that resulted as people ran and officers moved crowd members with billy clubs, Oakland North reporters observed the police arresting several people, including some who were trying to tell the officers that they had been on the sidewalk.

As the police continued to move people further down the road, the crowd grew smaller, until as of about 9:20 pm there were only about 50 protesters visible ahead of the police, many of them wearing the black clothing and face masks that characterize Black Bloc protesters.

A trashcan fire set by protesters. Photo by Adam Grossberg.

Update 10:15 pm As of about 10 pm, a group of about 50 to 60 protesters had lined up in front of the Rite Aid along Broadway facing towards Frank Ogawa Plaza and seemed to be slowly inching towards the street. Across the road, in front of Tully’s Coffee, a group of about 60 police officers in riot gear stood facing them. Both sides appeared to be simply watching each other.

A few minutes later, the officers crossed the street, heading toward the protesters, and split them into two groups, urging one group to move north along Broadway and another to head south. “Get walking,” and “Let’s go,” the officers told the protesters, who peacefully complied. As the officers escorted the crowd away from the intersection along the sidewalk, a group of about a dozen officers on motorcycles pulled into the street. Revving their engines and wailing their sirens, the lines of motorcycles helped escort the protesters away.

Oakland Police Department spokesman Sergeant Chris Bolton said the commanding officer had made the decision to move the remaining protesters because they were blocking the sidewalk and the entrance to BART.  “Once the crowd is thinned out we are going to go back to monitoring the city,” he said.

A damaged window at the California Bank and Trust at 20th Street and Franklin. Photo by Byron Wilkes.

Update 11 pm: Shortly after police moved the crowd away from the 14th and Broadway intersection, they began to make some arrests at 17th and Broadway; Oakland North reporters saw three underway. A crowd of about 40 protesters remained at that intersection, along with a heavy law enforcement presence that included an Alameda County sheriff’s van, four white police vans and several unmarked police cars.

Just before 11 pm, Oakland police spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason said that the preliminary number of arrests from throughout the day was 23, not counting the ones that had just occurred at 17th Street. Thomason said the charges ranged from failing to disperse to violations of stay away orders, and that some people had been arrested for throwing objects at police officers. He said that to his knowledge, no police officers had been injured, but that several had been hit with paint balloons.

Bolton confirmed that two police cars had been damaged by protesters, an unmarked car at 16th Street and San Pablo Avenue that had been smoke-bombed and vandalized with spraypaint, and a second at Franklin and 13th Street that had been covered in an  “unknown accelerant.”

“Officers were able to intervene before it was ignited,” he said.

At around 11 pm, law enforcement vehicles began to leave the Broadway area. Shortly after the hour, only the sheriff’s van remained.

You can read our complete past coverage of Occupy Oakland here.

Reporting by Megan Molteni, Spencer Whitney, Byrhonda Lyons, Thomas Kleinveld, Anne-Sophie Braendlin, Adam Grossberg, and Byron Wilkes.


  1. Nicole Jones on May 1, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Really great and timely detail in covering all of today’s events. Thanks!!

  2. Matt Chambers on May 2, 2012 at 9:35 am

    “Black Bloc protesters” wouldn’t they even like being called Black Bloc terrorists instead? I mean they love the mahem -it’s less of a misnomer than “protester”.

  3. Josh Levinger on May 2, 2012 at 9:52 am

    “Escort the protestors away”? We were forced down the sidewalk, told we could be arrested for merely peacefully standing in a public place.

    No one was blocking traffic except the police. There were fewer people hanging out at the corner than on any normal weekend night at 14th and Broadway.

    Were you guys even there?

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