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Police Fear Violent Confrontation with Protesters

Officers criticize Oakland Mayor for letting the tent city grow

As Oakland police prepare to evict hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters from their encampment in front of City Hall, some officers and city leaders say Mayor Jean Quan should have done more to prevent what they fear could become a violent confrontation.

Some protesters have discussed physically resisting officers who try to evict them, according to people who attended a meeting of demonstrators on Thursday night.

“This has just gotten totally out of hand, in terms of safety and public health. I think it could have been prevented,” said council member Larry Reid. “If anyone gets injured in that park, and the city knows of the conditions that exist, then we can be held liable, and we can be sued.”

Occupy Oakland began as an offshoot of the nationwide movement that denounces, among other things, corporate greed and politicians who enable it.

Protesters set up the encampment on Oct. 10. On any given night, they say, some 400 people are sleeping in tents at Frank Ogawa Plaza. But in the past week, many demonstrators who carry an anti-police message have moved into the tent city.

Removing the sprawling camp will be challenging for a police department that’s already tightly stretched. In San Francisco and San Jose, city officials removed their Occupy encampments before they could grow.

But in Oakland, police officers complain, city officials took the opposite tact and allowed their encampment to grow larger, noisier and more dangerous. All this makes a showdown with police inevitable, they say. 

According to police sources, most of the eviction scenarios call for a massive officer deployment with support from nearby law enforcement agencies. 

Commanders said the plans are complicated by the presence of children, mentally ill homeless people, and other individuals who may not be interested in a confrontation with police.

“You’ve got a really hardcore anti-police, anarchist presence there,” said one police officer with knowledge of the plans.

The mayor's office said it has tried to establish a dialogue with the group, with little success. The city began sending out daily notices about health and safety violations on the third day of the encampment, asking that the protesters address them. The violations include setting open fires, allowed dogs and playing loud music in the public plaza.

In a notice dated Tuesday, the city stated that protesters would not allow emergency responders into the plaza after a person fell 14 feet from a tree. 

Despite the notices and efforts to work with the group, city spokeswoman Karen Boyd said protesters continued to violate the rules.

“Over the ten days, cooperation has deteriorated,” she said.

Police said the department has received many calls about incidents inside the encampment, but when officers arrived, they were outnumbered and blocked from entering the area.

Some protesters acknowledge that the situation within the camp has grown more volatile -- and more violent. At a Thursday morning meeting, one protester said a male intruder entered a woman’s tent and had to be escorted off the plaza.

Separately, another protester told The Bay Citizen somebody pulled a knife on him at the camp earlier in the week.

On Thursday, the city sent the group a “notice to vacate.”

On Friday, the city issued a “demand to cease violations” and informed campers that their activities are creating a public health and safety hazard and that sleeping in the plaza overnight is prohibited. 

“Your continued violation of the law will subject your tents, stoves, sleeping bags, tarps, and any other belongings left in the plaza to immediate removal from the Plaza,” the notice reads.

The protest represents the first big test for Howard Jordan, who was appointed interim police chief by Quan last week. Police sources say the department is preparing plans to shut down the encampment, although they may not do so anytime soon, department spokesperson Johnna Watson said.

“We have not had any direction from the mayor’s office to do anything,” Watson said.

When approached by a Bay Citizen reporter on Friday, the Mayor refused to answer any questions about the city's response to the encampment or police concerns.
In a press conference later Friday afternoon, Boyd said the mayor’s office hasn’t set a timeline for the eviction. And she wouldn’t comment on the policing challenges of removing the encampment.

On Thursday night, after the city issued the “notice to vacate,” a group of protesters called on campers to confront the police with violence, according to several protesters who attended the meeting.

They say the calls for confrontation are alienating a sizeable faction of Occupy protesters who advocate non-violent resistance.

One such protester is Dorothy King, who owns Everett and Jones barbeque near Jack London Square. She has camped at Occupy Oakland for the past week. At a morning meeting, King proposed that Occupy Oakland open a line of negotiations with the city. 

“I know a lot of people don’t want to deal with the city,” King acknowledged to a group of about 20 protesters. “But you have to negotiate and tell the city you’re addressing their concerns.” 

A protester informed King that the group had come to a consensus that “we’re not negotiating with the city to be here.” 

Occupy Oakland has also notified city officials that they would only respond to health and safety concerns during their evening meetings.  

King said she remains “proud” of what the Occupy Oakland protesters have created in two weeks but she, like other protesters, has decided to take her tent down. 

“I’m a non-violent person,” King said. “They’re more focused on protecting the encampment and not the movement.” 

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