In August 2011, I packed up my car with all my worldly possessions and my best friend and I drove across the country to San Francisco. We couch surfed for a bit, and in late September I finally found an apartment (my first!) in downtown Oakland. I especially loved the park in front of City Hall.
In October of 2011, inspired by the encampment in New York, Occupy Oakland sprouted in Frank Ogawa Plaza, in that park in front of City Hall. They quickly renamed the park to Oscar Grant Plaza, in memory of the unarmed black man shot by BART police 2 years previously. I was new to the city, and suddenly I got to meet so many of my neighbors. The camp was friendly, people hanging out, offering food, smoking, holding meetings. I watched the General Assemblies as everyone decided together what actions to take next and how to maintain peace in the camp and fight for shared goals (and figure out what those goals were). I’d never seen anything like it before in my life.
I was also introduced to the Oakland Police Department. The night of the first raid of the camp, I woke up at 5am for work, checked Twitter, and saw the camp had just been raided. I walked outside my apartment and the streets stunk of tear gas. The police had a line of protestors sitting on the curb in zip ties. A table was set up in front of a bus, as they were asked their names before being loaded onto the bus. I walked further down the sidewalk, past metal barricades manned by officers on either side, taking photos. Before I knew it one of them had grabbed me by my collar as I walked past, raising his baton over his head. He told me to get the fuck out of there.
I spent the next 6 months taking photos every chance I could get.
I’d never seen so many police before in my life. I later learned that a show of force with large numbers of police is part of OPD’s standardized Crowd Control Policy.
Oaklanders made their message clear over and over again through their signs and through yelling at the police. This was the afternoon after they had first raided the camp in early morning and people were angry directly at the police for destroying the encampment.
These motorcycle cops were the worst. The would drive as slowly as possible and rev their engines as loudly as possible in attempts to intimidate protesters and literally drown them out. They would also drive as quickly as they could at people in the street and play a sick game of chicken. I saw at least 3 people lose this game of chicken and get hit by an OPD motorcycle.