Occupy Oakland: After Second Police Raid, Protest Ends with a Whimper

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Terry Schmitt/ UPI / LANDOV

Police close off the Occupy Oakland encampment as a police helicopter flies over the scene in front of City Hall in Oakland, California on Nov. 14, 2011.

Monday morning was deja vu all over again as hundreds of Bay Area police stood guard downtown following a pre-dawn sweep to clear out protesters who have lived on city hall's doorstep for over a month. They had staged a similar raid on Oct. 25. TV crews and pedestrians gawked over metal barricades as cleaning crews tore down tents and posters, sweeping away candles and dried rose petals in honor of an anti-war veteran who was seriously injured in the initial police raid.

This time around, however, no windows were smashed, no tear gas canisters fired. By the time riot police started to surround the plaza, the camp was mostly devoid of people. A few stubborn holdouts chanted "Pigs go home" and officials say more than 30 people were arrested, but most stood by on the sidewalk or out of sight, too tired or scared to resist. "[The police] were armed to the teeth; they didn't have to do anything to us," says Atomic, 42, a long-time camp resident who packed up his gear before officers arrived. "We just wanted things to stay peaceful."

For weeks city officials tried to remove the swelling Occupy encampment, which evolved into a rallying point for anti-establishment protests everywhere. But a growing bloc of local merchants, city council members and even ardent supporters of the movement, concerned about the impact crime and drug use were having on area businesses, were pressuring authorities to take decisive action. The fatal shooting of a young man last Thursday amounted to a last straw. In a statement Sunday, Mayor Jean Quan, a veteran liberal activist who has come under fire for her handling of the protests, re-affirmed her post-shooting call that due to the "increased violence associated with the camp and the strain on our city's economy and resources, now is the time for the encampment to end."

Over the weekend, police issued several warnings to the campers, some of whom struck their tents and left. As rumors of a raid frayed the nerves of the Occupiers, cautious defiance started to verge on paranoia. After the first "cease and desist" notice was served on Friday, Edward, 24, a student who came down from another Occupy camp in Reno, Nevada, with several friends to show support, stood in the rain with his sleeping bag in hand, unsure if he should stay or go. "I really believe in what's going here; at the same time, I don't want to get beat up," he says. "[The police] could come any minute." Late into the night, fellow protesters traded conspiracy theories and passed around joints to stay calm. When a march pulled away from the plaza the next evening, scouts posted around the city center kept watch for any sign of police. There were false alarms: At one point, two beat police officers assigned to patrol the perimeter were mistaken for an advance party by a couple of protesters, who assailed them with a flurry of panicked curses.

Internal tensions added to the grim atmosphere. Jack, 24, a fixture at the camp who was injured by police in the Oct. 25 clash, said all of his belongings were stolen from his tent, leaving him with no more than a pair of crutches. Several of his comrades said they'd also been robbed in recent days. Another resident, who asked to be unnamed, went on that he had seen a troubling rise in the use of hard drugs such as crystal meth and crack cocaine around the camp, and blamed "degenerates and street rabble" attracted by the free amenities and charged atmosphere. That's to say nothing of homeless people with mental disabilities that brought their worst symptoms with them. "Truth is, this place has been a refugee camp since the first raid," says Amanda, a camp medic originally from northern California.

Thursday's broad daylight shooting cast this aspect in sharp relief. Witnesses said a fight had broken out next to the camp between two young men, one that escalated when one of them came back with friends. Several camp residents apparently tried to break it up, but six shots ring out moments later that left 25-year-old Kayode Ola Foster dead on the pavement. At first there was some confusion over his identity, evidenced by the different names scrawled on a makeshift memorial. According to several protesters, the victim was known to hang around the plaza but was not part of the movement. They contend the reporting on the incident as part of the Occupy movement was thus innappropriate — though there was some agreement that it was emblematic of a violent city awash in guns and drugs. "This is Oakland. It was just a matter of time before something like this happened," says Atomic.

Indeed, standing a few feet from the scene of the crime, Ramona, 22, a first-time visitor from a rough part of Los Angeles, was having second thoughts about her decision to come downtown. "I'm from Compton, so I came here to crash, but I don't think so anymore," she says, in between asking passersby if they could recommend a cheap hotel close by. "I'm hearing about sexual assault, gang-banging, cops and robbers. This place is pretty shady."

On Sunday, word of the police action in Portland, Oregon ramped up anxieties. It was just after 4 a.m. on Monday morning when a mass text went out to Oakland supporters alerting them that police were finally on the move: "Get the word out and come now to help if you can." The call largely went unanswered. Beyond the dearth of camp regulars, there was no sign that more hardcore radicals — such as the Black Bloc anarchists that have vandalized buildings and clashed with law enforcement — were lurking for a showdown. Kevin, 18, explained that many of his friends who took part in the destruction that marred the Nov. 2 general strike decided to leave since there was a rift in the movement between "liberals and revolutionaries" and they no longer felt welcome. "They've gone back to Portland and Seattle," he says.

By 10 a.m. on Monday, police parted barricades to allow traffic through. A few loiterers soon stepped into a busy intersection opposite the plaza. "They occupy our plaza, so we're gonna occupy their street," shouted one visibly drunk protester who took a swig of vodka from a bottle that was being passed around. "Whose street, our street," went the familiar refrain. Motorists, for their part, were having none of it. Instead of turning around, some tried to force their way through, including one man who bumped a protester out of his way. Another protester kicked a car as a fierce argument broke out on the sidewalk over the usefulness of the stunt. Taking in the messy scene, Luke, 19, a full-time camp resident, shook his head in disgust. "These people are not part of this movement; they just show up to do stupid s---," he sighed. "Now, they're pissing off the 99 percent."

Several long blocks away at Snow Park, a satellite site with more than 30 tents and counting, the mood was subdued. "I don't know what my battle plan is yet. We're all scattered now, and that's what they want," says Keith, 27, adding: "This is not the end, it's the start of long revolution." He and his friends planned to attend an emergency General Assembly at the main library, where protesters were scheduled to regroup and discuss next steps. Under a nearby tree, Felicia, 23, strummed a mournful tune on her guitar, on the verge of tears. "It was beautiful, the way the camp used to be, and now everyone's afraid," she says. "We were a family. Why didn't more people didn't come out today?" A elderly woman tried to console her, saying that Oakland had played a big part in bringing the movement international attention, but her words didn't sink in.