Before arriving at the most recent police eviction of Occupy Oakland demonstrators from Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, California, let’s review the series of events– and policy flip flops– that got us here.
First, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan supported the Occupy Oakland movement, saying that “democracy is messy,” and allowed the demonstrators to remain encamped in Frank Ogawa Plaza indefinitely, suspending the law that would normally prohibit such a gathering.
Then in late October, after two weeks of demonstrators occupying the plaza in a tent city with permission from Oakland’s mayor, the demonstrators woke up early one morning to the sounds of 500 militarized police in full riot gear announcing over loudspeakers that they are clearing the entire encampment and that any demonstrators that do not leave will be subject to attack by chemical agents. They followed through with tear gas, smoke bombs, rubber bullets, and flash grenades, infamously wounding an Iraq War veteran with what appeared to be a shot deliberately aimed at his head.
That was the city of Oakland’s first policy flip flop on the Occupy Oakland movement, and it was a dangerous one. Giving so many hundreds of people the impression that they have the legal right to be somewhere and then suddenly confronting them with armed riot police in the early morning hours is a recipe for confusion, conflict, and pain.
The very next day, Mayor Jean Quan and the city of Oakland flip flopped again, allowing the protesters to return to the very plaza they had just cleared out by violent force, and at great taxpayer expense mere hours earlier! What then was the purpose of the eviction in the first place? Continuing to pursue its erratic policies toward Occupy Oakland, the city then endorsed a city-wide strike the following week, prompting criticism from Oakland police.
Yet, despite endorsing Occupy Oakland and blessing its occupation of Frank Ogawa Plaza not once, but twice, the second time after forcibly evicting them, Mayor Jean Quan moved forward with a second police eviction Monday, a third flip flop in a month’s time. Why officially allow the protesters to return if the mayor was only going to evict them yet again?
Some of the arguments for each eviction are certainly worth considering, including public safety, sanitation, health issues, and reports of rape and other crimes associated with the tent city in Oakland. But if the mayor and the city believed those arguments were serious concerns the first time they evicted the protesters, why did they allow them to return the following day?
To recap: the mayor and city of Oakland have alternatively 1) Endorsed Occupy Oakland and given its participants permission to occupy Frank Ogawa Plaza; 2) Forcibly removed the demonstrators whom they gave permission to occupy the plaza; 3) Reverted to damage control mode from all the bad publicity and allowed the occupiers to return to the plaza; 4) Forcibly removed the demonstrators a second time after giving them permission to occupy the plaza.
This seemingly aimless and erratic set of policy decisions not only puts police and residents in unnecessary danger as they attempt to cope with all the mixed signals and confusing policies from the city– it wastes a vast sum of taxpayer dollars. Just the cost of paying other police departments for aiding in Monday’s raid will be as much as half a million dollars alone.