Crackdown At Occupy Oakland

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Police are getting tougher on 'Occupy' demonstrations across the country, working to break up encampments. Police made dozens of arrests on Monday morning in Oakland, Calif. Host Michel Martin learns more from reporters who are covering the Occupy Oakland movement: Martin Kaste of NPR and Bob Butler of KCBS Radio.


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, just how many people are poor in this country and who are they? It might sound like a simple question but it is not. The federal government is trying out a new formula to get at that question. We'll hear two very different perspectives on what's wrong with the old measure and whether the new one is any better. That conversation is coming up but first we wanted to take a look at what's happening to the Occupy movement.

There have been new developments over the weekend that are still going on as we speak. Across the country, local officials have been getting tougher on those demonstrations created in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street group. In a number of cases police have moved to break up encampments in public spaces. Today, we're focusing on what's happening in Oakland, California, the scene of one of the most contentious showdowns over an Occupy encampment in the country. Police moved into the camp early Monday morning making dozens of arrests.

We're joined now by Bob Butler. He's a reporter for KCBS Radio and he's been covering events at Occupy Oakland. Also with us Martin Kaste. He's an NPR correspondent based in Seattle, and he's also been covering the Oakland Occupy movement. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

BOB BUTLER: Hi, thanks for having me.

MARTINE KASTE, BYLINE: Hi, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Bob I'm going to start with you. As we said the police moved into Occupy Oakland today. The mayor of Oakland Jean Quan issued orders on Friday saying it was time to break up the camp there. Why, what precipitated this decision right now?

BUTLER: I think when the Occupy movement first started in Oakland it lasted for maybe about three or four days. The mayor said could you guys please leave? The police moved in and removed all the tents. That night, it was a Tuesday night when we had all the trouble, police firing tear gas. People were getting hit, people were getting arrested. A few days later the tents were back and the mayor said OK, well, you can stay in the plaza but just don't camp there.

Well, people, of course defied that and began putting up tents and more than 100 tents were put back up. After a while it got to the point where it became as the mayor said a safety hazard. Sanitary conditions weren't that great. The time that I was out there a couple of weeks ago, there were no bathroom facilities. There were no port-a-potties or anything like that. They have those now but, you know, it became a situation where they said look, you know, this is not what we need to be doing.

Yes, I support you but you guys just can't be camping here. And so they issued the warnings last week saying that this is illegal assembly. You can be arrested at any time. They handed out one flyer, I believe it was on Friday, another one on Saturday, and then of course the police moved in Monday morning to - they arrested a couple of maybe about a dozen people so far and all the tents are being taken down.

MARTIN: And I understand though, Bob, just to clarify this, I understand that the order came a day after a young man was shot to death?

BUTLER: Yes, it was a...

MARTIN: Near the Occupy site, what happened?

BUTLER: ...there was a shooting nearby. The Occupy's located at Frank Ogawa Plaza, which is in front of City Hall at 14th and Broadway. You know, not at the camp but near the camp at the entrance to the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the BART station, the subway, there was some kind of an altercation and somebody pulled out a gun and shot this young man and he died. Now, there has been controversy. Was he an Occupy member or not? It's not really clear.

There was somebody who was at Occupy who said it was their cousin and then some people said that it was the shooter who would have been camping at the Occupy site. But you got to remember, the people that moved into to set up Occupy Oakland were not the people that normally hang out there at that plaza. There are people that are hang out there every day. Some of them are homeless, some of them are people that just hang out there.

So, it's not clear whether he was an Occupy protester or somebody who just happened to be as they say in the wrong place at the wrong time.

MARTIN: Martin, you've been covering Occupy Oakland as well and we heard that the protesters are furious. In fact, that one of Jean Quan's advisors resigned in protest of the police moving in. So, they feel that excessive force was used but it's unfair. But what about what are other people saying?

KASTE: Well, and just to clarify, I mean, I was there the night of the shooting. I was just a few yards away. I would say it's the community there was adamant at first, saying that this is not one of our guys. This is not about Occupy was what they started chanting almost within minutes of the shooting. Then they formed sort of a human chain around the victim so, that we couldn't photograph what was going on and then now it's been trickling out that there's some I would - I'm pretty convinced that he if nothing else was staying there from time to time from the people I've been talking to but it, you know, as Bob says it's unclear what is a protester? Who's a hanger-on, you know, the whole situation downtown there is a bit amorphous, but he was not a passerby I don't think.

MARTIN: Could I talk - could I clarify something though, Martin?

KASTE: Sure.

MARTIN: You were there the night of the shooting. Did anybody get help for him?

KASTE: That's right.

MARTIN: Did anybody get help for him before...

KASTE: Yes, I mean, it was chaotic. What happened was there I counted at least three shots, just sort of a clutch of people kind of surge around that scene. And then as it sort of sinks in what's happened a lot of people naturally ran from the area for self-preservation, but others from the camp sort of self-deputized, sort of medic types with, you know, kind of homemade red crosses on their jackets headed toward him. Then I couldn't really see, you know, how quick they were to, you know, help a trauma victim.

And then within just a few minutes I'd say maybe four or five minutes sirens started and the EMT's were - the firemen were there pretty quickly and helping him professionally.

MARTIN: But can I just ask why they - there was this move to shield him from view? I'm just curious about why that is. Do...

KASTE: The whole week that that I was spending time with them I got an intense sense of anger and suspicion towards the media or towards what they would call the mainstream media. Just, I think they kind of got - they understood the messages coming from City Hall. This is becoming politically untenable and I think there's just a sense that no matter what the situation, it's going to be spun against them and be spun in a way that will excuse what's happening this morning; a raid on the camp so, I guess the, you know, one woman basically told me if you don't put away your gear, you know, you're going to get beat up like the other guys. And she was referring to some TV cameramen who were rushed and one guy was hit. I got the sense it was sort of almost a reflex protection, self-protection for the movement and, you know, whether or not it was fair, they felt they would be tarred unfairly with what had just happened.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about developments in the Occupy Oakland movement. Our guests are KCBS Radio Reporter Bob Butler and NPR correspondent Martin Kaste. And as you heard, just some very chaotic, you know, incidents at the Occupy Oakland encampment, and they're bringing us up to date. So, Bob, what's the situation now as - where does the city - where do both sides think they want to go from here? As we heard that the protesters have been very adamant that and very angry about the way that they were treated. But what did they say that they're going to do next, from what you can understand? And what about the rest of the city, what about city officials saying they're doing next?

BUTLER: Well, city officials would love nothing more than for the whole Occupy movement to just go away. There are many officials within the city who support the goal of Occupy, which is, you know, to stop corporate greed. I guess that's the easiest way to say, to clarify what they really want. But the protesters themselves, I mean, yes, the police are there now. They are taking down the tents, and I say now because that's what happening on Monday.

But they say once this is done, we're coming back. We're going to retake the plaza and I think when that - if that happens, if protesters try to take back the plaza, that will be the acid test because I can't imagine the mayor or the police department wanting to see this Occupy Movement reassert itself in Frank Ogawa Plaza, which you have to remember is right in front of City Hall. You know, when people come to do business with the city they see this encampment and it - they're worried about what it's doing also to the business community.

There are businesses right around there that are being hurt because - they say they're being hurt because of the camp itself.

MARTIN: And, Martin, tell me more, if you would, about - there's been this ongoing issue in Occupy Wall Street and there's been this sort of tension and the related movements around the country, this tension over how they are depicted and whether they have leaders and what is their message.

But from your reporting there, what was your sense of the group, of what their intensions were, how long they wanted to stay? What were their hopes in being there?

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Well, you know, in some ways, we've heard this refrain from all around the country at these Occupy encampments where they insist they're a leaderless movement. They don't have a specific list of objectives right now at this moment, political goals, but you know, each site also has its own idiosyncrasies, kind of each site is a creature of where it is.

It was interesting just going back and forth between Berkeley and Oakland, which of course are neighboring cities. On the campus of UC Berkeley, at the same time, the same week, students were trying to start a camp on campus. The administration didn't take kindly to that and put the university cops out there in riot gear to make sure that didn't happen. But there, you got a real sense of - you know, they have very specific objectives. They're concerned about tuition going up, about funding cuts to public education.

While in the downtown Oakland it's a far more amorphous, you know, frankly - the people camping there in front of the City Hall. It was a hodgepodge of outsiders. You know, I'd just run into people who'd just come from the Occupy L.A. and they thought this was hotter to locals who lived downtown, homeless people who, you know, see sort of the warmth of community forming there, and it's just human nature to want to join it.

Also, some sort of ideologically-driven people who have specific objectives. But I'd say they were the small minority there. And people who come and go. A lot of people I interviewed ended up telling me, well, I don't actually sleep here. I sympathize and I come down and participate in general assemblies, but I don't live here.

So I get the real sense that, in some ways, the Occupy Oakland site was a place for people who needed a place to stay, homeless people and others, while others supported them during the day.

MARTIN: OK. Bob, final thought from you, and we have about a minute left. I wanted to ask - we've talked about how city officials feel. We've talked about surrounding businesses, we've talked about the protesters themselves. Any sense of how the larger Oakland community feels about what's going on? I understand it's a difficult question, but what's your sense of it? And we have about a minute, as I said.

BUTLER: From talking to people who live in Oakland, people that even live in the Bay Area, the majority of people support the goal of, you know, let's take back the power from the 1 percent, but I think people are not happy with how it happens.

See, the problem is, as they see it, that you have people that have goals in mind which, you know, are true goals, are you know, admirable goals, but the problem is you have all these other people that come to kind of glom onto it. You know, the black bloc, the anarchists. That's the biggest fear that people have is that you're going to have folks that have nothing to do with this movement coming in and tearing up property and making the city look bad.

MARTIN: All right. Bob Butler is a reporter for KCBS radio. He's been following events in Oakland. He's also vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists. He joined us from the University of California Berkeley, School of Journalism in Berkeley, California.

Martin Kaste is an NPR correspondent in Seattle and he was kind enough to join us from his office there. Thank you both so much for speaking with us. I hope you'll keep us up to date.

BUTLER: Thank you, Michel.

KASTE: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Just ahead, we often think of poverty in America as a simple question. Either you're poor or you aren't. Now, the Census Bureau has a new method that aims to give a more nuanced look at poverty in America, but will it make any difference in whether and how we actually try to address poverty? We'll have two very different views about redrawing the poverty line. That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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