posted 2011-12-13 11:23:24

Final Days of the Occupy Oakland Camp

Oakland camp evicted days after a fatal shooting

by John Bolger

News and Features Editor

The days before the second eviction of the Occupy camp at Oakland Monday morning Nov. 14 were filled with tension. Following a fatal shooting just outside the camp the previous Thursday, concern for safety was high, prompting many occupiers to leave the encampment. The Envoy was on location.

An individual who was identified by people at the camp as “Alex,” was shot multiple times just outside the entrance to the occupation site and bled to death at a signpost near the entrance to the campsite's Bay Area Rapid Transit station.

Randy Wilkins, cousin of the victim, spoke to The Envoy at Alex’s vigil. “I see my cousin come running towards me,” said Wilkins, 24, “with a look on his face like 'don't let me go' before he started coughing his own blood out his mouth.” According to Wilkins, police did not respond to the shooting for at least ten minutes.

“Where the hell was y'all at yesterday when the shooting was at?” Wilkins shouted at two police as they strolled by the site of the shooting just after midnight.  “This is where y'all supposed to be patrollin', this is City Hall!”

Wilkins said that Alex was not an active member of the Occupy Oakland movement but had been hanging out around the camp the previous few days, staying at Wilkins' tent. Wilkins said that he removed an Occupy pin from Alex's chest in an attempt to prevent discredit to the movement.

The shooting had a chilling effect on the camp. Occupiers said that Friday and Saturday saw reduced participation, with the kitchen, security and medical teams being understaffed for the first time since the occupation began. The tent count fell to about 150, down roughly 30 tents from a count conducted earlier by the Oakland Fire Department. The night after the shooting was eerie, a light mist covered the city of Oakland as protesters were scarcely seen outside their tents in the muddy camp.

Oakland and New York are two markedly different cities with two markedly different Occupy movements. The NYPD haunted Zuccotti Park day and night, however the OPD were barely present at all. During The Envoy’s coverage of the event there were no OPD officers stationed at Frank Ogawa Park. Instead, small groups ranging from two to four officers would patrol the park perimeter approximately once an hour. Occasionally during the day groups of less than ten officers would loiter outside the park for an hour or so before disappearing into surrounding downtown Oakland.

Another key difference between Occupy Oakland and Occupy New York has been the violence perpetrated by both sides. Whereas protesters in New York have been known to block traffic and sit on the ground, protesters in Oakland have been known to break into foreclosed buildings and set fire to crudely constructed barricades. Whereas the NYPD has been known to beat protesters with batons and send the occasional horse, the OPD has been known to shoot tear gas and fire beanbag rounds.

MJ De La Cruz, 24, a driver for the Occupy Oakland medical team, said that he has been to all the major protests. De La Cruz said he drove 29 protesters to the hospital before the second eviction of Frank Ogawa Plaza. He has driven people suffering asthma attacks, circulatory shock, and flesh wounds.

“During the raid and the riot, EMS was not responding at all to this area,” he said, “I know this because I have a police scanner, so I just fell into action.”

De La Cruz said the worst injury he had encountered occurred on the controversial night when Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, sustained critical injuries from a tear gas round to the head. “I was helping someone who had a gash on his arm from a flash grenade about a block away from Scott Olsen,” he said. According to De La Cruz, the gash extended the length of the protester's forearm.

The day after Frank Ogawa Plaza's first eviction, protesters, families with children, local union members, and student and faculty of local colleges convened at the central library in solidarity with the Oakland camp and started to march. After the marchers refused to follow the path the OPD cut out for them, tear gas was used.

“The cops went into movement, and on a PA said to disperse, they were going to use 'chemical weapons' in 5 minutes,” said Cynthia Morse, 66, a grandmother. “I saw a woman I know and told her we had to get the children and other people away … I just escorted one small family away.”

Morse said that the families with children and strollers were clearly visible to police. “And of course the cops were all lined up facing the marchers, and children were definitely visible just across the street from them,” she said.

A now well-known demonstration organized by Occupy Oakland is the Nov. 3 shutdown of the Port of Oakland, the fifth largest port in the United States. The demonstration, which was orchestrated with the blessing of the port workers' union, succeeded in halting port operations for a day, and led to a strong police response and subsequent rioting.

Stephen, who did not give his last name, moved into the camp with his 12-year-old daughter the Saturday before the second eviction. He described how hundreds of OPD officers in riot gear approached the occupiers who had overtaken a building foreclosed by Wells Fargo. OPD began to fire tear gas canisters and beanbag rounds into the crowd. Protesters created a makeshift barricade in the middle of the street, which provoked an even stronger police response. Fire was set to the barricade in an attempt to impede the police.

“It was a street battle but it was all one-sided, the police just shooting rounds,” Stephen said, “They fought all night in the street till 4 a.m.”

Family participation in Occupy Oakland was notably higher than in New York. The Oakland camp had a “Children's Village” which lent toys and chalk to the children to play and draw on the amphitheater in front of City Hall. On Saturday – as the numbers at the camp grew again for the first time since the Alex's shooting – groups of parents with children were present until well after dusk.

“There's a whole crew of families convening ... They [children] are fascinated by the General Assembly,” Stephen said.

In a solidarity march with Cairo which started right before sunset that Saturday, a mother and daughter walked together holding hands just ahead of the march. The little girl held a sign saying, “Children support Egypt Too!” The march consisted of two to three hundred people and fully blocked traffic on Clay Street. The march remained peaceful with no confrontation with the OPD. The OPD's response was minimal, the first interaction with protesters came in the form of an unmarked car that blocked traffic a block ahead of the march 15 minutes after its start, presumably to influence the direction of the march. The march turned and continued in the direction opposite the unmarked car.

“I have a lot of work to do to make sure they [my grandchildren] don’t grow up and have to live in this shit,” Morse said a few hours after the march as the evening began to wind down.

The camp was evicted two days later, the morning before Zuccotti Park was evicted. A second Occupy Oakland encampment at Snow Park was evicted one week later. As the Occupy camps begin to disappear around the country, with them go artifacts of the strange dissident movement which started less than three months ago. Both Oakland and New York’s movements remain today still without camps since they were shutdown two weeks ago.