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Photo credit: Oakland Police Officers stand outside protesters’ tents in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on Sunday night. Photo courtesy of East Oakland Collective

Protesters arrested for camping in front of Oakland City Hall released from jail

on November 27, 2019

All 22 protesters who were arrested around midnight on Sunday for protesting after the park’s curfew in front of Oakland City Hall have been released from Santa Rita Jail as of late Tuesday night.

The encampment, which the organizers called The Housing Justice Village, started Sunday morning on the grass in front of the city’s iconic oak tree. There were over 20 tents, some with signs that read, “Upgrade Don’t Evict” and “Evictions are Deadly!” Throughout the day, protesters came to show support or drop off donations like meals and water.

“The intention of the encampment was to stay in the plaza until our demands were met by the city,” said Candice Elder, executive director of the East Oakland Collective (EOC), an organization that advocates for racial and economic equity. The protest was lead by activist group The Village, a group that advocates for unhoused people. (The Village activists had previously set up a tiny house site with city officials’ permission in the Fruitvale.) Sunday’s protest was supported by EOC and another group called First They Came for the Homeless.  

Some of the demands made at Sunday’s protest and on The Village’s social media feed included asking city officials to upgrade curbside communities, or unsanctioned tent encampment areas, as well as the city’s official Tuff Shed developments with basic amenities like drinking water. They groups also asked that public parcels be made available for unhoused people, and for a stop to more Tuff Shed developments.

So far there are five Tuff Shed camps, officially called “Cabin Communities,” run by the city of Oakland. Advocates have criticized these sites because city officials tend to create a large “no-camping” zone around them. They argue that people who can’t get a cabin, or who choose not to live in one, end up being further displaced. And they say that the sheds, which were originally designed to hold tools, are an inhumane way to house people, who sleep in them in pairs. But Mayor Libby Schaaf has often called the communities a success, nothing that the residents are able to live behind a gated fence and to lock their cabin doors for security.

In a statement released Monday morning, Schaaf wrote: “Housing and homelessness are the most urgent crises facing our community, region, and state. Our shared priority is to create more safe shelter spaces for our unsheltered residents and build more affordable housing immediately.”

“The protests on Sunday, that was our pushback for what Oakland’s been doing to the curbside communities throughout Oakland,” said Derrick Soo, a housing activist who helps support an encampment on 77th Avenue by assisting with security and connecting residents with medical care. Soo said he was upset with how people who live in tents and makeshift shelters on sidewalks have had their homes destroyed by city workers during evictions of unsanctioned camps. He says many people are not offered viable alternatives for other places to stay. For example, some people may not accept a voucher to stay in a shelter if it forbids them from bringing in dogs or large quantities of personal possessions.

For many, the presence of protesters camping in tents on Frank Ogawa Plaza was a reminder of the Occupy Oakland protests of 2011, when a collection of a few tents soon grew to an encampment of hundreds that lasted for two weeks, before city officials ordered the protesters to disperse. That eviction was followed by nearly a year of related protests, including attempts to set up alternative camp sites and to seize buildings, as well as massive marches through the downtown and the Port of Oakland.  

“We hoped that the movement would grow and that there would be more and more tents occupied by unhouse folks and housed advocates and supporters,” Elder said of the current protest, speaking late Tuesday night at the East Oakland Collective’s office after wrapping a monthly meeting with members.

Candice Elder of East Oakland Collective hands out food at the protest on Sunday at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. Photo courtesy of East Oakland Collective.

But on Sunday night after the street lights turned on, Oakland police officers told protesters they would need to vacate after the plaza’s 10 o’clock curfew. Many protesters had already left, but over a dozen people locked themselves inside the tents and refused to leave. Around 11:00 pm, over 50 police officers encircled the encampment, warning protesters that they would need to leave or else they would be arrested. After they refused to go, a few people standing outside of tents and over a dozen people inside tents were arrested and booked at Santa Rita Jail.

Belongings left behind by protestors, like tents, were bagged and labeled by staff members of the Department of Public Works. Protesters were told they would be able to recover items after they were released from jail.

In a press release published Monday, Karen Boyd, communications director for the City Administrator’s Office, stated: “the City provided unsheltered participants with resources at St. Vincent Paul, where beds and services remain available. Only one person availed themselves of a shelter bed and services.”

Justin Berton, director of communications for the mayor’s office, clarified in an email on Tuesday that people were removed from the encampment because it was deemed an unpermitted protest, not for setting up shelters.

All of the protesters who were arrested were charged with resisting or delaying arrest and refusing to leave the plaza after 10 p.m.

One of those arrested was lead organizer Needa Bee of The Village. In a video shot by Brandon Jourdan and posted on Indybay.org, a citizen journalism blog, Bee is shown being pulled and then carried out of her tent by police officers, and then later led away by them with her arms behind her back. Bee was released from Santa Rita Jail on Tuesday. Later that day, she wrote in a short text message to Oakland North that she went to the hospital because of pains in her arms that she experienced after being arrested.

Elder was not arrested, but instead spent the last 48 hours making sure all 22 people would be released. She and other organizers began asking for donations for bail and they agreed to prioritize certain people first. “We prioritize people who were unhoused first, then prioritized people of color,” said Elder as she tapped her silver acrylic nails on her phone, checking for updates on people who were being released from jail. “Then, we prioritize our our trans comrades,” she said.

Elder and fellow organizers were able to fundraise over $7,000 for bail. Each person arrested had a $5,000 bond. With the help of a loan from bail bond broker, a friend or family member would sign a loan and make a $500 downpayment, and then the person would be released from jail.

“BailSmart Bail bond gave us a discount. They essentially donated $150 towards each bail so we only had to pay a reduced price of $350 a person,” said Elder. “They believed in the movement and they believed in the cause.”

“We’re hoping the charges will be dropped once people appear in court, because everyone bailed out. Their court dates were moved to sometime in December,” continued Elder.

Soo says he’s now focused on the welfare of people at the city’s current encampments. “It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s windy. Nobody wants to go outside. Right now we’re looking at temperatures dropping down into the 30s into the 40s. So it’s going to be real miserable,” said Soo. “We’re going to have to hunker down.”

Photo credit: Oakland Police Department officers stand outside protesters’ tents in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on Sunday night. Photo courtesy of East Oakland Collective.

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