Over the past week, Mayor Jean Quan has come under increasing pressure to forcibly clear Occupy Oakland from its City Hall encampment. Both the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune editorial pages have criticized her for not doing so. The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association have called for a forced removal of the encampment as well, arguing that it has hurt businesses. Five members of the City Council also want the encampment cleared by police. And at least one councilmember wants to a hold a vote of “no-confidence” on Quan for not ordering police to remove the camp by force.
But those calling for another police raid have yet to propose a viable plan for how to clear the camp peacefully and permanently. More police use of force will not only probably spark an angry protest and confrontation with cops, but it’s not clear how the city can keep occupiers from setting up tents again in Frank Ogawa Plaza.
It’s probably safe to assume that another police raid on the camp will generate a huge protest and march in downtown Oakland — much as it did on the night of October 25. The encampment itself is not that substantial - a few hundred people, perhaps — but the Occupy Oakland movement at large is big. Thousands of people are likely going to descend on downtown Oakland in solidarity with the actual occupiers.
Based on police actions so far, and those of the small group of protesters bent on using Black Bloc tactics, it’s hard to see how such a scene is going to end well. It also seems likely that if Oakland police refuse to allow the occupiers to return to the plaza on that first night, protesters will keep coming back.
This is the basic flaw in the forced removal of Occupy Oakland: the resolve of the occupiers. Anyone who has visited the encampment knows that many folks there intend to stay for a long time. And they’re not going to go away easily.
So how will the city keep them out of the plaza night after night? It’s not possible for Oakland to deploy hundreds of officers 24 hours a day guarding the plaza and keeping the occupiers out. So what could the city do? Keep hundreds of cops at the plaza around the clock until crews build a fence?
And what would that fence look like? It’ll have to be tall and strong — that’s for sure. The occupiers, remember, easily removed a temporary fence that the city erected after the first police raid. Wrought iron? Ten feet tall? Maybe barbed wire on top to keep out the most agile?
That would be quite a spectacle: the City of Oakland, known as being one of the most progressive cities in America, building a giant fence around its City Hall to keep out demonstrators who want to exercise their rights to free speech. It’s absurd, when you think about it.
But that’s the problem with the forced eviction advocates: They haven’t really thought this through. It’s easy to criticize the mayor, but a forced removal of the encampment is fraught with problems and it’s irresponsible to demand another raid without addressing them.
We have been critical of Quan over the past few weeks, especially for her ill-advised decision to green-light the first raid. But to her credit, she appears to understand the many complications that a second raid would cause. That’s why she keeps calling on Occupy Oakland to leave voluntarily, and has raised the possibility of moving the encampment elsewhere. She seems to get it that a second forced removal of the camp could propel the city into chaos.
But the question is: After last night’s homicide near the encampment, can she withstand even more criticism and pressure to use force and see the situation through peacefully?