UC Berkeley students march with Occupy Oakland demonstrators

Kevin Foote/Staff
A mass of Occupy Oakland protesters marched around the streets of downtown Oakland.

When one UC Berkeley graduate student in the anthropology department heard from fellow students marching with Occupy Oakland that police were using tear gas against protesters Tuesday night, he headed down into the fray.

Marching down Broadway, the protesters faced off with police as they reached 14th Street, the entrance to the Oakland Commune — dismantled by police earlier that morning. More and more people were arriving by the minute, and most were trying to maintain a peaceful protest.

But when several people began throwing objects at the police, officers in riot gear and gas masks opened fire with flash-bang canisters.

“They were going off all over the place. As soon as that happened, I grabbed one and threw it right back,” said the graduate student, who asked not to be identified due to fear of retribution.

He sustained second degree burns on his hand when he picked up one of the exploded flash-bang canisters.

“Unfortunately Oakland didn’t want to work with protesters as other cities are doing,” he said. “Oakland City Council should realize that force is not power — it’s just force.

“Everyone involved — even if they’re just donating or passing through and then leaving — that’s power. We’re trying not to exert force but power through mobilization,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, the graduate student said he has walked through Occupy Berkeley’s encampment, but decided that he felt more connected to Oakland’s movement and began volunteering in the kitchens there the last two weekends.

With its relaxed atmosphere and thinner numbers, Occupy Berkeley has been overshadowed by other nearby encampments.

Many of the Berkeley demonstrators have been actively participating in Oakland and San Francisco’s occupations. They say that it is important to support other encampments, and that protesters from Oakland and San Francisco have been visiting Berkeley’s camp as well.

Many students were present when violence broke out in Oakland Tuesday night, resulting in the deployment of tear gas, flash-bang canisters and rubber bullets as well as multiple arrests and national attention. Others decided to attend the general assembly meeting and march through Downtown Oakland on Wednesday after seeing images from the night before.

Occupy Berkeley’s encampments — one in front of the Bank of America on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street and a larger one in Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park — have been much quieter thus far since an Oct. 15 rally and march as part of an “International Day of Action.”

Despite a notice issued to Occupy Berkeley protesters Monday ordering them to cease camping out at Civic Center park, participants have not left and say they are not worried about any kind of police intervention at the moment.

“I don’t think the Berkeley police will be making any kind of move any time soon, especially after what happened in Oakland,” said UC Berkeley junior Bo-Peter Laanen, one of the facilitators of Occupy Berkeley’s general assembly meetings. “They haven’t given us any trouble, and their notice didn’t really threaten us at all.”

Protesters have been compliant with Berkeley police so far.

“We have been periodically monitoring the group for community and public safety issues and/or  concerns and have responded to some participant’s requests for BPD services,” said Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss in an email.

After several protesters addressed the Berkeley City Council at its meeting Tuesday evening — one day after receiving the notice from the city manager’s office — council members expressed the desire to have the issue on the agenda at some point.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, whose district contains both encampments, said the City Council is not opposed to the occupations. Arreguin added that he was not aware of the notice sent to the protesters from the city manager’s office before it was delivered, and has requested that he he be notified in the future.

“I don’t believe the city should kick them out right now,” Arreguin said. “At present there haven’t been any serious issues in terms of violence or health and safety. They have a right to stay, but we do need to be in communication with them.”

Several Occupy Berkeley participants were present in Oakland during the violence Tuesday night, as well as at the Occupy Oakland general assembly meeting the following night. A group of them headed to San Francisco from the meeting after hearing reports that police were planning to move in on the encampment there.

“Oakland has a history of police brutality and tension,” said UC Berkeley junior John Holzinger, who went to Occupy Oakland and then Occupy SF Wednesday night. “There’s a whole different feel compared to Berkeley.”