By Alex Emslie
SF News Reporter
To the surprise of some observers of the movement, Occupy Oakland and the Oakland Police Department played nice on Thursday, Oct. 25, at an event commemorating one year since police evicted occupiers from Oakland’s city center.
One year ago, the OPD and other law enforcement agencies repelled angry protesters trying to re-enter the plaza at Oakland’s city center with multiple barrages of tear gas and bean-bag projectiles. Protesters returned after each barrage and converged outside the perimeter marked by lines of riot gear-clad officers and demanded to be let back in. Several protesters were injured in the fray, including Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen.
Protesters hardened by previous calamities, but also one year wiser, gathered at Oakland’s city center Thursday at 3 p.m. OPD officers, who were more subdued after scathing criticism of the department’s handling of Occupy protests from a court appointed federal monitor, kept their distance as about 200 protesters met, swapped tear gas stories and strategized for the future.
“A lot of times people want to talk about what Occupy has accomplished,” said 71-year-old Occupy Oakland protester Daniel Borgström. “It’s trained a generation in the democratic procedure.” Borgström, a former U.S. marine, said he was terrified to come out to Occupy Oakland protests, but he knows he can rely on his fellow occupiers to keep him safe.
Although some occupiers had posted on the Internet that they would bring tents and “retake the plaza,” no tents were in sight, and despite strong rhetoric from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan the day before, OPD allowed the crowd to enter and re-enter the plaza.
There were still some tense moments.
Federal Department of Homeland Security officers in bulletproof vests hung around the outskirts of the protest between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m., talking to OPD officers. One of the officers said they were working with BART Police to patrol the transit system for possible terrorist activity and had nothing to do with OPD enforcement.
“We couldn’t care less about Occupy,” the officer said. He declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of DHS.
A man wearing a Klu Klux Klan outfit and carrying a sign that said “God Hates Occupy” and “White Power” showed up at the plaza just after 5 p.m. Occupy protesters and the media chased the man around and around the plaza, but the uproar eventually died down. Many at the protest speculated that the man may have been a responsible for Defend Our Oakland Movement (DOOM) fliers calling for violence against Occupy demonstrators that had been plastered around downtown Oakland about a week before the event.
Oakland Police Sgt. Henderson Jordan said the unidentified man made him nervous, and some Occupy protesters said he may have been a police agent provocateur.
“We are here to ensure everybody is able to express their First Amendment rights, but we have to balance that with keeping this guy from being injured,” Jordan said. He added that while last year OPD had been evicting protesters, this year was simply a facilitation.
Most of the 200 protesters left the plaza just after 7 p.m. and marched to the sites of previous Occupy clashes with police, including the Jan. 28 YMCA and 12th and Oak streets. The crowd returned to the plaza a few minutes before 9 p.m. where they watched a projected slide show containing a year’s worth of Occupy photography.
Police made a total of two arrests throughout the evening. OPD arrested Alexander Loutsis for allegedly throwing a rock at officers during the march, but police waited for him to return to the plaza before quietly making the arrest shortly after 9 p.m. He was charged with felony assault on a peace officer.
The second arrest occurred after private security asked the crowd to leave the plaza just before 10:55 p.m., and Occupy complied. One protester said they were happy to comply with “community police officers.” OPD reported at 11:20 p.m. that they arrested someone for assaulting a private security officer. The department quickly edited the charge to delaying or preventing an officer in the performance of duties and possession of narcotics. It is unclear whether the second arrestee was affiliated with Occupy Oakland.
OPD Sgt. Jeff Thomason said the event was very peaceful. He confirmed that police were not making targeted arrests, as they had at previous Occupy Oakland events. One of those arrests directly preceded an angry reaction from the crowd on Jan. 28. Thomason said he didn’t know if the absence of targeted arrests contributed to the overall peaceful outcome of the demonstration.