Chaos descends on Occupy Oakland
By Stephen Lam
It all started like a normal day covering Occupy Oakland. But little did I know it was going to be one of the most intense protests I’ve ever covered.
I arrived at Oakland City Hall around 1pm and there was already a sizable crowd gathered in preparation for the march. I was a bit surprised to see people carrying shields, but I didn’t think much of it and proceeded to photograph the protest as I normally would.
The march began as the group announced that they were headed towards their sound truck which was supposedly pulled over by the police. Sensing a bit of tension, I instinctively went back to the car to grab my gas mask and helmet.
As we approached the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Building, we were met with a strong police presence in an effort to block the protesters. The protesters attempted to avoid confrontation with police by maneuvering through Laney College. This is where the first face-off began.
Shortly after, the protesters made their way to the convention center via Lake Merritt Boulevard. At one point, demonstrators were seen pushing metal fences down to advance towards the center. Unlawful assembly was declared and smoke grenades were set off.
As tension slowly subsided, I followed the main group of protesters as they proceeded toward 12th and Oak Street. We saw the police line not too far from 10th and Oak St. near the Oakland Museum of California. Instead of avoiding the police line like they did earlier in the day, the protesters marched directly towards them with their shields drawn. Violence broke out soon after. Tear gas was fired and white smoke filled the air, affecting both protesters and officers alike. The demonstrators regrouped, made one more advance toward the police, and were met with more tear gas and less-lethal munitions before retreating.
After the 10th and Oak St. clash, I spent the next hour photographing arrests as the police began pushing the group back toward City Hall. Soon after, I went to transmit my photos.
When I returned, I was informed that the group had left the plaza and was surrounded by police at a park near 19th and Telegraph Avenue. I arrived just as police were confronting the protestors at the other end of the park. While I was trying to figure out how to work around the scene, the protesters broke through the metal fence, narrowly escaping the police kettle and started marching again before police made a mass arrest outside the YMCA on Broadway between 23rd and 24th Streets.
Though tear gas was not used this time around, it was total chaos. I soon found myself trapped inside the perimeter across the street from the main body of protestors along with AFP photographer Kimihiro Hoshino, San Francisco Chronicle Photographer Michael Macor and fellow Reuters reporter Laird Harrison. We were initially told that we were not allowed to leave, but we ended up being quickly released. However, a few of my other colleagues were not so lucky.
As I continued to work on the scene of the mass arrest, I received an alert saying a small group of protesters had made their way into the Oakland City Hall and had burned an American flag. I quickly made my way there but it was already too late. However, I was able to capture a protester burning a smaller flag.
Later, the remainder of the protesters marched toward the Oakland Police Headquarters before returning to the intersection of 14th and Broadway where police issued a dispersal order again and made a few more arrests.
Eleven hours later, I was finally able to sit down and enjoy a late lunch/dinner with a few colleagues. We were all too exhausted to complain about anything, including when the restaurant gave us pure watermelon juice instead of watermelon juice with tapioca.