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Occupy campers shout down Oakland council members
Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tension escalated between Occupy Oakland and city leaders Wednesday when protesters swarmed a news conference held by five council members who were calling for the immediate dismantling of the encampment outside City Hall.
Protesters shouted, "We are the 99 percent of Oakland!" and drowned out the council members who were standing at a podium but had no sound system.
Councilwoman Desley Brooks then started her own chant, which was repeated by the two dozen members of the clergy, business owners and other council members who had gathered to speak out against the camp. Their chant was "Occupy Oakland must go!"
The chaotic scene at the Lake Merritt bandstand near Children's Fairyland underscored what has been a tumultuous relationship between the city and the month-old encampment, which police cleared out Oct. 25 only to see it return the next day after Mayor Jean Quan ordered officers to back off.
The confrontation angered the council members in attendance: Brooks, Pat Kernighan, Ignacio De La Fuente, Larry Reid and Libby Schaaf.
"This display was indicative of the problem with Occupy Oakland," said Brooks, who perhaps more than any other council member has tried to work with campers. "These are people who believe everybody ought to have a voice, yet they came down here to silence our voices."
Brooks along with other council members took aim at Quan, who was not at the news conference.
"The mayor needs to step up and do her job and get these people out of here," Brooks said. "We will not be held hostage."
Business people and clergy tried to give firsthand accounts of how the encampment is affecting downtown businesses and siphoning off resources from other Oakland neighborhoods. But they could not be heard.
The protesters were led in their shouting by Max Bell Alper, who said he was drawn to the movement because banks have foreclosed on his parents and his uncle and are threatening to do the same to his grandmother.
Alper, 31, said he lives in Berkeley but has spent considerable time at the camp and said he was beaten by police during the Oct. 25 raid.
"My arm still hurts," said Alper, an organizer with Unite Here, a hotel workers union. "Occupy Oakland is a frustration with our current system and hope for the future."
Alper dismissed council members' claims that their voices were silenced.
"We cannot have dialogue when their statement is immediate eviction," Alper said.
Council members tried to continue their news conference but had to shout over protesters. Front and center was Debra Grabelle, 40, an Oakland resident who lives in De La Fuente's district.
Even though it was nearly impossible to hear council members speak, Grabelle dismissed council members' complaint that they didn't have the freedom to speak.
"From my perspective, they're free to speak," said Grabelle, who works for the California Nurses Association. "We're shouting them down because we don't want them to bring thousands of police to downtown Oakland. ... They should allow us to freely assemble."
As the council had its news conference, Quan's spokeswoman walked around the crowd and handed out the latest statement from the mayor. In the statement, Quan, who has wavered on what to do about the Occupy camp, called both for campers to leave and for the city to remove the campers.
"We renew our call on Occupy Oakland to make a decision to leave immediately," Quan's statement began.
But it continued: "While I am pleased to see a consensus developing on the Council to remove the camp, I call on elected leaders who are clamoring for an immediate raid to put forward a plan that does not cause additional injury to people, property and our reputation, or result in another reoccupation. I urge them to join me, the City Administrator, Police Chief and community leaders in implementing a plan to remove the encampment."
Asked if Quan had ever proposed a plan for the removal of the protesters, De La Fuente said, "Hell no."
As council members were being confronted by protesters at the park bandstand, Quan slipped out of City Hall and addressed the encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza, according to her aide, Sue Piper.
But people at the encampment later said they were not aware Quan had visited the camp and were unaware she had issued a statement asking campers to leave.
"It's ridiculous," Stephen Mayfield, 44, an encampment visitor from Vallejo, said after being shown a copy of Quan's statement. "This movement is not going anywhere. I don't care if they put tear gas on us, hoses on us or flash-bang grenades. All it's going to do is intensify the movement. We're fighting injustice."
Later in the evening, Occupy Oakland protesters gathered for their general assembly meeting and withdrew a resolution calling for future demonstrations to remain peaceful. A faction of the protest group has advocated for violence as a "diversity in tactics" approach to demonstrating.
OAKLAND, Calif.—A group of Oakland city and business leaders demanding the removal of a month-old Occupy Wall Street encampment they say has hurt downtown businesses were shouted down Wednesday during a chaotic confrontation with angry protesters.
With City Council President Larry Reid and a handful of city council members addressing the crowd during a news conference, dozens of protesters repeatedly drowned out speaker after speaker, chanting, "We are the 99 percent!"
Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who camped out with protesters early on in the movement, and other city leaders eventually responded with their own chant: "Occupy Oakland must go!"
As the shouting intensified, along with some mild posturing, several protesters got face-to-face with city leaders—separated only by a podium as Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente tried to speak.
At one point, Reid was hit by a sign as the protesters began chanting: "Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!" and "Which side are you on?"
Many protesters fear police will eventually move forward with another early morning raid to remove them. A tear-gas-filled clash Oct. 25 resulted in more than 100 arrests and left an Iraq War vet with a serious brain injury.
Those worries were why protesters showed up at the news conference, said protester Debra Grabelle of Oakland.
"What we don't want is for them to bring police into our community and brutalize our community," she said. "They are
bringing in the cops for people who are peacefully assembling."
Mayor Jean Quan allowed the protesters to return to the encampment the day after the Oct. 25 raid. The camp has since grown to about 180 tents. She again asked members of the encampment Wednesday to come to a "peaceful resolution" with the city and show respect to the people of Oakland.
"We renew our call on Occupy Oakland to make a decision to leave immediately," she said in a statement.
Quan also called on "elected leaders who are clamoring for an immediate raid" to come forward with a plan that doesn't lead to more injuries, further damage the city's battered reputation and possibly spark another re-occupation.
Reid said at the news conference that the environment outside City Hall has been problematic for residents and businesses. Other speakers said the situation has strained city resources.
"If the mayor doesn't want to do her job, well, we're going to do our job," Reid said.
De La Fuente slowly shook his head when he was asked if Quan has failed in her handling of Occupy Oakland.
"Failed is not even the right word," he said. "She cannot handle this."
One protester, Adam Jordan, who frequently organizes the Occupy Oakland nightly open mic sessions, apologized to Reid after the councilman was shouted down.
"I don't know why they did it. Heresy, conjecture and rumor got people so jazzed up that they came here wanting to yell at people and they yelled at you. You are not the one to be yelled at," Jordan said to Reid. "You are not the 1 percent."
Four city council members calling for removal of Occupy Oakland encampment
Four Oakland City Council members will call for the immediate removal of the Occupy Oakland encampment today.
Council President Larry Reid will join council members Ignacio De La Fuente, Desley Brooks and Libby Schaaf at a news conference this afternoon to call for the ongoing Occupy Oakland encampment to be removed from Frank Ogawa Plaza, where the protesters have been camping since Oct. 10.
“To me, immediately means as soon as practical,” Schaaf said today.
She said she would defer to the city administrator to determine the best way to remove the encampment.
“Obviously we all want this resolved peacefully and productively,” she said, “But we are trying to make a strong statement today that the lawlessness will not be tolerated.”
Schaaf said that recent incidents such as a turbulent protest that followed a daylong “general strike” in Oakland on Nov. 2 have hurt downtown businesses with vandalism.
Police forcibly removed the encampment the morning of Oct. 25, but after confrontations with protesters seeking to return to the plaza that night drew international media attention, police presence at the plaza was withdrawn, and protesters returned the next day.
Paul Junge and Joseph Haraburda of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce are also expected to attend today’s news conference, according to Claudia Burgos, a spokeswoman for De La Fuente.
Haraburda and Junge have been increasingly critical of Mayor Jean Quan’s response to the protests since protesters returned to the plaza, saying that the continued encampment is hurting the business community and calling on the mayor to reach a peaceful resolution with protesters quickly.
On Tuesday, Quan issued a statement asking protesters to appoint an spokesperson to negotiate with city officials for the removal of the camp. Quan said several protesters have come forward in recent weeks, but none has been officially chosen by Occupy Oakland to act as a liaison.
Meanwhile, the city administrator’s office released a statement Tuesday outlining continued health and safety issues it said are persistent in the camp. It said that the Oakland Fire Department responded to two fires overnight, and that protesters had been hostile to firefighters trying to enter the camp.
The statement also said graffiti, vandalism and sanitation continue to be problems.
Occupy Oakland protester Kevin Seal said today that he has not heard of any progress toward appointing a spokesperson to negotiate with city officials. He said that because of the nature of the Occupy protests, there are no official representatives.
Seal also disputed the allegations that the encampment is hurting downtown businesses.
“We’re finding the businesses around the encampment are actually doing better business than before we got there,” Seal said.
He added that most businesses that are part of the Chamber of Commerce are not downtown near the encampment.
“I think it’s telling that this press conference today is at the Lake Merritt bandstand and not anywhere near 12th and Broadway,” Seal said.
He also said that a heavy police response could be responsible for any decline in business in the downtown area.
“If people are scared to come to downtown Oakland, they’re scared of being shot at by police,” Seal said.
Seal said protesters are working to improve health and safety conditions at the camp, and that they are taking responsibility for keeping the camp clean and safe.
“It seemed cleaner yesterday than I’ve ever seen it before,” he said.
He added that protesters have been maintaining portable toilets and have added more fire extinguishers to the camp.