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An Ugly End to Long Day of Protest

Police fire tear gas after small group of protesters sets fires, vandalizes buildings

It was the moment Oakland leaders had tried to avoid throughout Occupy Oakland's day-long mostly peaceful protest: a confrontation between demonstrators and police.

But around midnight, officers fired tear gas at protesters who had taken over a vacant building and set makeshift barricades ablaze near 16th Street and Broadway.

As police were approaching the barricades, Oakland's mayor, Jean Quan, was sending out tweets urging protesters to contact her office.

But within three minutes, officers began firing tear gas at the demonstrators, who had been throwing firecrackers and bottles at police, according to witnesses and news reports.

Protesters ran away from the tear gas; some began breaking windows along 16th street. A group of demonstrators dressed in black broke windows and spray-painted the offices of the Oakland Police Department's Internal Affairs Division.

A few protesters stopped spray-painting briefly to pose for pictures, while other demonstrators tried to convince them to stop vandalizing property.

Around 1 a.m., on a street adjacent to Frank Ogawa Plaza, a group of 200 to 300 officers faced off against 150 protesters, many of whom were carrying makeshift shields and taunting officers. At one point, the officers split into two groups. Protesters followed the officers, who ordered them to disperse.

Police then went around a building, surrounded the demonstrators and began firing tear gas.

One of the tear gas canisters hit The Bay Citizen's editor-in-chief, Steve Fainaru, in the stomach, then exploded on his left hand. Fainaru said he did not sustain serious injuries.

Officers arrested more than 50 protesters.

The confrontation early Thursday morning followed a day of demonstrations and rallies by Occupy Oakland that culminated in thousands of protesters marching to the Port of Oakland, shutting it down.

Most of Wednesday's demonstrations were peaceful, although a group of about 60 protesters dressed in black vandalized four banks and a Whole Foods Market.

Interim Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan estimated that 7,000 people took to the streets at the height of the protest.

By 10 p.m. Wednesday, dozens of protesters who had been at the port made their way inside a vacant building on 16th Street, the former home of the nonprofit Traveler’s Aid Society. They hung a banner in the window that read, “Occupy Everything.”

Protesters had circulated a flier calling for the organization, which provided aid to the city’s homeless population before funding cuts and foreclosure, to reoccupy the space.

“Otherwise, we will make it into a library and open workshop space for the people of Oakland,” the flier reads. “To us this space is invaluable. We are reclaiming it for the people. It is now open for our use.”

More demonstrators began to dance and gather outside, while others built barricades on the street.

Shortly after 11:30 p.m., some of the protesters began lighting the barricades on fire, setting off a confrontation with police.

The Oakland Police Department is currently investigating another confrontation between officers and Occupy Oakland protesters that resulted in officers' firing tear gas. During the Oct. 25 demonstration, Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Iraq war veteran, suffered a fractured skull. Videotapes from news organizations and protesters suggest Olsen may have been hit by a tear gas canister fired by police.

It's not clear which law enforcement agencies were involved in that incident or in the confrontation early Thursday morning.

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