The streets of Oakland erupted in violence and chaos Tuesday night as an attempt by Occupy Oakland protesters to reclaim the location of their occupation culminated in clashes with police. One demonstrator sustained a fractured skull after being hit in the head with what was thought to be a police projectile. The night’s events sent ripples throughout the relatively nonviolent, nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement and sent shivers up the spines of neighboring Berkeley demonstrators.
The violence that occurred is unfortunate and regrettable. We question the necessity of this violent escalation, both on the part of the police officers and on the part of the few protesters who initially threw objects and paint at cops.
Within a movement that purposefully lacks central leadership, protesters must be cognizant of the high propensity for violence from the fringe few who face no accountability within the group. Protesters, including those from the neighboring Occupy Berkeley demonstration, must learn from Tuesday’s events to move forward with discretion. Nonviolent strategies will, in the end, be more influential and will strengthen their message, movement and support.
Nearby in Berkeley, city officials have issued notices to protesters, including one on Monday ordering them to cease camping at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. We understand the protesters’ fear that they may face similar clashes with the cops, especially given the close proximity to Occupy Oakland and the 18 police departments mobilized to that site.
Though the city has not explicitly mentioned any planned police action, officials should have an open dialogue with protesters before making a move. The protesters have striven to work with the city and have taken steps to meet requests. For example, participants moved their tents when asked to do so and asked community members to help water the park for proper maintenance. The city should reciprocate and ensure that officials meet with them in person for proper discussion before calling for police intervention.
Additionally, we encourage the Berkeley Police Department to have a high threshold for tolerating the actions of protesters should an altercation arise.
The Bay Area Occupy Wall Street movement can be peaceful so long as protesters and authority figures treat one another respectfully. We hope to never again see the violence of Tuesday so that the movement can carry on without further ferocity.