Occupy Oakland Riots

The Occupy Wall Street Movement started on September 17, 2011. While the movement was centered in New York City, many other cities around the country started similar movements at the same time. San Francisco’s Occupy Movement was centered in the Financial District near the Ferry Terminal, first at a Bank of America, then at the Federal Reserve Building. Christi often walked by the protestors on her way to her favorite Internet cafe.

Christi worked in the banking world from 1996 to 2007. In 2002, Christi became deeply troubled by the economic policies set by the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As time went on, she became more troubled as the policies she viewed unfavorably were expanded. She wanted to join in the San Francisco protest, particularly once they moved to the Federal Reserve Building. Unfortunately, the peaceful protesters were harassed by police from the beginning. Eric made Christi promise never to go into the protest area because it wasn’t safe for a pregnant woman, particularly one who wasn’t yet showing.

After we moved Kosmos to Oakland, we saw that there was an Occupy Oakland protest set up in the park in front of City Hall, in the heart of downtown. Since it was across the street from the BART (train) station, we passed it often. Eric never went over to that side of the street to get a closer look, but Christi did several times.

In keeping her promise to Eric, she never actually went into the park, but she lingered around the sidewalk nearby and talked to some of the people that worked in the shops adjoining the park. There were a few more times she intended to stop by the park that she didn’t, though, because there was police wearing riot gear surrounding the park.

The more Christi talked to the locals, the clearer it became that this movement was different from the other Occupy Movements around the country. Instead of expressing anger about federal policies that have exacerbated income inequality, Oakland was more focused on expressing anger at the perceived sins of the local Oakland government, particularly in regards to a young man who was shot by police in a BART station in 2009. This demonstration against the local government wasn’t anything new, though. As we mentioned in another post, tensions between the police/government of Oakland and residents has been an ongoing problem since World War II.

The protestors camping on the grass were peaceful, respectful of the law, organized and orderly. But there was a small dark element that hung around on the paved areas surrounding the grass, particularly on the benches and retaining wall. Armed gang bangers loitered around, as did homeless people. The homeless people often went to the bathroom on the ground instead of the port-a-potties. Some more rebellious types openly drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, both in blatant violation of the law. Sometimes bands would play, and many didn’t appreciate the style of music.

The campers on the grass clashed on what to do about the fringe element. Some believed they should police themselves and kick them out; others thought everyone should be welcome in the movement no matter what. Nothing was done by the campers, so the police stepped in. Because the problem causers on the fringe were clearly divided from the rest of the campers on the grass, the police could have easily dealt with the small group of problem causers without disrupting the encampment. But the police decided it was time for the encampment to go. Both sides were ready for an ugly fight.

In the early morning of October 25, 2011, the police evicted everyone from the park. The protesters re-grouped at another location and started marching in the streets. That evening, Christi was aboard Kosmos writing away when several helicopters started doing circles overhead. She knew something bad happened to attract so many helicopters. When Eric got off the BART on his way home from work, he found himself looking at a police barricade. They were dressed in riot gear and had closed off the streets near park; main roads that normally saw a lot of traffic. It was clear they expected the protesters to return to the park and would meet them with serious violence. Eric pushed past the blockade area and rushed home, not wanting to be anywhere near the looming violence. That night, we were glued to the Internet, watching the riots play out and hoping the violence didn’t make it the .6 miles down to Jack London Square.

After the riots started, there was an enormous public backlash against the city. People got hold of the officials personal phone numbers and called them all night, demanding the police back off. The next morning, the officials directed the police to retreat. The protesters re-took the park and were emboldened. Thanks to so much publicity, the Oakland Occupation Movement grew rapidly over the next few days and became more active, now loudly marching in the streets instead of simply camping quietly in the park. Unfortunately, a few unruly people in the group became violent and began vandalizing buildings. The Occupy group also tried to disrupt business at the Port of Oakland, bringing the action closer to Jack London Square than we would have preferred. While it was exciting to be in the middle of history being made, we didn’t feel it was the right place to be with a baby on the way. Tear gas, flash bomb smoke and rubber bullets from the police aren’t exactly good for an expectant mother. Neither are spray paint can fumes, breaking glass, and random objects hurled with intent for destruction from the protesters.

We had always planned to return to San Diego around the end of October. Eric had been keeping an eye on the weather for the previous couple weeks, looking for an ideal weather window. That window came on October 28th. There was a huge storm approaching from Alaska, but if we made a non-stop run we could make it to San Diego in mild weather. If we waited, we could be stuck in Oakland for several more weeks before another window opened. So at 0700 on October 28, we left Oakland, returning to San Diego on October 31.

This is part 10 of an 11 part series on our time in the San Francisco Bay area. Read part 9 here and part 11 here

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