By Greg Zeman and Alex Emslie
Bay News Movement
Clouds of smoke engulfed the deafening chaos in the street. Car alarms wailed as flash-bang and teargas grenades exploded against plastic trashcan shields. Rapid-fire waves of projectiles crashed into corrugated steel barricades painted with the slogan, “Commune Move In. Cops Move Out.”
After a day marked by several clashes with police, multiple injuries and about 400 arrests, Occupy Oakland protesters were ultimately unable to claim a vacant building for use as a social center, Jan. 28.
The atmosphere surrounding the crowd of roughly 450 people gathered at Frank Ogawa Plaza around noon, had an air of festivity and excitement that belied the tense confrontations with police that would characterize much of the day’s events.
Leo Ritz-Barr, an Occupy Oakland activist, said he supported the movement’s decision to take over a vacant building and convert it into a social space where occupiers could “provide for the needs of Oakland, much in the way that the camp did.”
Homeless people have always had a place in the Occupy movement, Ritz-Barr said, and the Oakland camp in particular focused on providing social services like food and basic medical care to those who had fallen through the cracks of the system.
“There are 8,000 homeless folk in Alemeda county, 29 percent of which are children,” he said. “The city of Oakland has not been helping them, has not been able to provide for them.”
As the crowd gathered, several police officers huddled near Frank Ogawa plaza examining a stack of pages with text and photos of peoples faces on it. Khalid Rothschild approached the officers and asked if they were looking at a picture of him. They quickly detained Rothschild, telling him he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, only to release him about 30 minutes later.
“I wouldn’t say I was punished [for asking police about the packet],” Rothschild said after he rejoined the gathering in the plaza. “I would say I was targeted.”
Oakland police officers refused to comment on the nature of the packet they were seen examining throughout the day, referring questions from reporters to an on-site public information officer, whose name and location they were unwilling or unable to provide.
At 1:15 p.m., the crowd marched south on Broadway, followed closely by police in riot gear, who announced they were there to facilitate a peaceful protest.
Police and protesters clashed for the first time at roughly 2:45 p.m., when the police ordered the crowd to disburse after protesters tore down several chain-link fences surrounding Henry Kaiser Convention Center, which has vacant for 6 years.
The police, who were on a hill separated from the crowd by a deep trench, fired smoke bombs down into the relatively narrow concrete corridor, causing a brief panic where protesters tore down fences and scaled walls to escape what many assumed was teargas.
After the chaos subsided, the crowd regrouped on the bank of the trench at the base of the hill. Some individuals made efforts to breach the police line by climbing walls adjacent to he auditorium, but nobody managed to reach the building.
An announcement from a protester’s megaphone told the crowd, “This [occupying the Kaiser Auditorium] was plan A; there are other plans.”
Protesters marched west and met a line of police in riot gear at 10th and Oak streets. As they advanced toward the police, they took cover behind trashcan shields and a pair of corrugated steel barricades.
Police fired a sustained barrage of less-than-lethal ordinance into the crowd. A few protesters picked up gas canisters and hurled them back toward the police.
As the crowd of protesters retreated back toward Frank Ogawa Plaza, a young woman—later identified by a friend as Amanda “Miran” Chapel—offered a man with tears streaming down his face a vinegar-soaked cloth, telling him the vinegar would burn when it hit his eyes, but would neutralize the tear gas.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve been out here before.”
Occupiers regrouped at Frank Ogawa Plaza at 4 p.m., where a street-medic who declined to give his name said he treated several people for bruises, burns and tear gas exposure.
Police gave the protesters a wide berth until about 5:30 p.m., when the crowd began marching north.
Officers surrounded them on all sides at Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park, near Telegraph Avenue and William Street, ordering the crowd to disburse, but established lines blocked all exits to the park, making disbursal impossible.
After a tear gas canister exploded, the hundreds of trapped people broke down another fence and escaped back into the street.
The police trapped the approximately 400 protesters again between 23rd and 24th streets on Broadway. The crowd tightened in front of the Downtown Oakland YMCA, which has a winding concrete stairway leading to its front entrance.
Some people began knocking on the doors and gesturing to employees inside. Just as the YMCA opened its door to Occupy Oakland, the police charged up the stairs wielding batons.
Officers repeatedly struck protesters’ joints and legs with overhand swings of their nightsticks, including one man laying face down on the concrete with two officers already sitting on his back arresting him.
Officers declared the YMCA a crime scene and forced the press at least 50 yards away. A group of about 150 protesters and a handful of reporters meandered outside police lines as officers arrested the majority of the crowd.
“They know who they want, and they’re picking and choosing right now,” Jillian Jones said after reuniting with her sister outside the police line. “Growing up as a child, I was told the cops will always be there for me, the cops will always protect me, and now as I get older, the cops are the ones against me, beating my people when we live in these streets.”
The splintered protesters decided to regroup again at Frank Ogawa Plaza with the hope that their movement would draw some police resources away from making arrests at the YMCA. When they got back to the plaza, protesters somehow gained entry to the deserted Oakland City Hall.
The roughly 20 protesters that entered City Hall a few minutes after 7 p.m. threw stacks of newspapers and trashcans around the building’s main lobby and several people grabbed a large U.S. flag and burned it on the outside steps.
By the time nine police officers arrived at City Hall 15 minutes later, the small splinter group had abandoned the building.
Amanda “Miran” Chapel, the 19-year-old woman who had offered a vinegar-soaked rag to tear-gassed protesters earlier in the day, was carried away from Frank Ogawa Plaza by an ambulance just after 8 p.m. James Jennison, who identified himself as Chapel’s friend, said he called paramedics when he got back to the plaza and found Chapel vomiting and in severe pain.
Jennison said Jan. 29 that Chapel was released from the hospital, and that she had suffered back injury during a clash between the protesters and police.
Oakland police estimate the day’s arrest totals at about 400.
A version of this story was published in El Tecolote on Feb. 2, 2012.