Who didn’t start the riot

I managed to track down León Ritz-Barr, who has been occupying Oakland for the last couple of weeks. At least that is what he claims — I was unsure because he does not appear to be a delinquent, homeless anarchist — the type I have been led to believe the movement is comprised of.

Leo is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and played a major role organizing the massive student protests against cuts to higher education at UCSC, including their occupation of the student union. In spite of continued setbacks to the student protest movement such as multiple fee raises and further cuts to education, Leo is up to his old rebellious tricks here in the East Bay, where he has been a dedicated member of the Occupy Oakland movement. Well spoken and passionate people like Leo are at the heart of all budding community movements, and if “The Man” can learn anything about trying to quell these uprisings, its that defiant leaders like Leo need to be neutralized.

When I heard that Leo had been taken into custody the morning of the police raid on Occupy Oakland, I was surprised to think that Oakland police might actually be doing their best to supress those at the heart of the Occupy movement. But apparently it doesn’t work that way: Leo and the other occupiers were back out on the streets in no time. Leo told me he made it back to join the protest march just in time to be tear gassed.

When I spoke to him a few days after the raid, Leo did not appear to be suffering from the effects of noxious chemicals or rapidly fired projectiles, but from the footage I have seen I believe the police did try their best to “shut them up” as he says. I hope that by bringing this interview out into the open, people can try to understand what the 1 percent is up against.

Leo is a pretty articulate guy and he had a lot to say, so the interview had to be substantially cut down to fit the time frame. Part of what ended up on the cutting room floor was this allegation:

LRB: The first amendment is the right to peaceable assembly, and we have been peaceably assembling — until the cops came and created a riot. Actually part of the citation I was given was “refusal to leave the site of a riot”, okay? We didn’t start the riot — the cops and their tear gas did.

I will add that there are rumors the use of heavy-handed munitions like flash-bangs and sound cannons actually galvanized the movement, but I can’t comment on rumors. See for yourself, would the use of weaponry like this galvanize you?

Leo stressed to me that he wanted to get across a point about the Oakland PD’s treatment of women. Perhaps my inclusion of it here can act as a warning to you progressive-minded females:

LRB: I saw an older woman, a member of the Oakland Educators Association, holding her banner  a little “too close” to the police — the cop was just jabbing her repeatedly with a baton into the chest. She was causing no direct harm there was no need — it was a complete power play. When eight cops were separated from the rest of the group as they arrested two people, someone threw paint on them. Some of them freaked out. The first people they started attacking were women and they went for their kneecaps, okay? These men are pigs. These women are pigs. These people cannot be respected nor trusted when they just beat up citizens of their own country, when they injure veterans who have served in militarized wartime situations. To bring that militarization back home for peaceful protests is absolutely criminal and there is a reason it is called the criminal justice system, because it is exactly that — a crime against justice.

A previous version of this post misspelled León Ritz-Barr’s name.