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Tense Meeting Reveals Deep Divisions over Occupy Oakland

 
Crowd boos police chief and business leaders; one City Council member worries about "collateral damage"

Supporters of the Occupy Oakland movement and some of its detractors packed an emotional Oakland City Council meeting Thursday night to discuss the city's response to the protests.

The council was considering a resolution by Councilwoman Nancy Nadel in support of the "Occupy" movement that called on the city to "unequivocally embrace" the protesters' First Amendment rights to assemble and called on Mayor Jean Quan to collaborate with the protesters to ensure their and the public's safety.

After the council heard hours of comment from the public, Nadel said she would not yet put the resolution before the council for a vote because her fellow council members wanted to think more about it.

"We don't have the votes tonight for this resolution," she said.

Nadel said some of the sanitation problems associated with the encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall are unpleasant, but those problems exist elsewhere in the city and shouldn't be swept under the rug.

"We have to deal with the real, real problem of financial inequity in our country," she said.

Quan spoke at the conclusion of the meeting, urging residents to attack economic inequality by taking action to help the city's struggling neighborhoods like East Oakland.

"The movement is not downtown here in this plaza alone," she said.

She also said she has been having trouble communicating with protesters in the encampment.

"How can we have discussion if we don't have some kind of liaison?" Quan asked.

During the meeting, which got under way shortly after 6 p.m. and lasted for five hours, exchanges between city officials and speakers were so tense at times that some speakers were escorted from the room by police.

Council president Larry Reid struggled to maintain order, especially while interim Police Chief Howard Jordan was attempting to speak over protesters' jeers.

"If you keep yelling, I will ask you to leave," Reid told the crowd. "Let us be respectful of our disagreements with one another."

At other points, Occupy Oakland supporters shushed each other.

Many of the more than 100 speakers to address the council lauded Wednesday's peaceful march in which thousands of demonstrators streamed from downtown to the Port of Oakland and shut it down.

A number of speakers criticized a slide show presentation made by Arturo Sanchez, assistant to the city administrator, that showed images of the damage to businesses but no photos of peaceful protesters.

"Where was the beauty?" speaker Octavio Carrasco asked. "Where was the sharing? Where were the people coming together?"

Several speakers referred to "tens of thousands" of protesters who participated in the march and said estimates that there were only about 5,000 were far too low.

"What we have is not a local phenomenon," said Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation. "It is a national and international phenomenon."

Many were upset about a small minority of protesters who vandalized businesses in the downtown area.

Speaker Max Allstadt said that group is hurting the larger movement.

"They are damaging other people's right to free speech," Allstadt said.

He said he himself was arrested overnight during a confrontation with police but was not involved in the vandalism.

"I just got out of jail an hour ago," he told the council.

There was outrage over the Police Department's use of force -- which has included tear gas and beanbag weapons -- and several mentions of Scott Olsen, the Iraq War veteran who was injured by a police projectile.

Protesters claim rubber bullets were also deployed, but Oakland police have said their department did not use them.

The crowd hissed at Chief Jordan when he said, "My officers showed great restraint."

They also loudly booed Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce president Joseph Haraburda when he said Frank Ogawa Plaza should be cleared to protect local businesses.

"We've got to make change now," Haraburda said.

City Administrator Deanna Santana gave a presentation in which she said the number of tents in the plaza has grown to about 165.

"Frank Ogawa Plaza is not a campsite," she said.

Councilwoman Pat Kernighan said that she, along with many residents and business owners, is concerned that problems related to Occupy Oakland are reversing progress the city has made in terms of economic development.

"This set us back like 15 years," she said. "We're desperately trying to create jobs in the city because we have 20 percent unemployment ... what I'm asking you to realize is there's serious collateral damage to this city."

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