OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) – Police and protesters scuffled in Northern California on Tuesday as more than 1,000 people marched on city hall in Oakland to voice anger over arrests at an “Occupy Wall Street” camp.
Police surrounded a group of demonstrators on a downtown Oakland street, taking several into custody before setting off what appeared to be a stun grenade to disperse the throng.
The bulk of the crowd headed for city hall, with leaders saying they intended to reclaim Frank Ogawa Plaza, the site of two weeks of protests against economic inequality before police firing beanbags cleared the area before dawn.
At the plaza, police ordered protesters to disperse and were met with some cooperation.
“I’m here because I’m incredibly sad and incredibly angry, protester Samsarah Morgan, 51, said. “I’m hoping our city government comes to their senses and stops dealing with us like a fascist state.”
Morgan said she founded a “children’s village” at the Occupy Oakland encampment and was worried about four children who had stayed in tents there.
Jeremy Tully, the 30-year-old employee of an Internet company who was handing out flyers for an upcoming Marxist conference in Berkeley, called the city’s action an unnecessary show of force.
“I left work early today to come and stand up against the kind of repression that happened this morning,” Tully said.
Oakland city spokeswoman Karen Boyd said those arrested at the encampment overnight faced charges for camping or assembling without a permit in the plaza.
The area remained cordoned off on Tuesday afternoon and a line of police officers stood guard.
Boyd said that once the area had been cleaned it would be reopened and protesters would be free to use it for daytime demonstrations, she said.
SEXUAL ASSAULT REPORTED
About 350 people were in the plaza when police began to clear the area, Boyd said, confirming that officers deployed beanbags and gas. There were no reports of injuries.
The city said in a statement it told protesters last Thursday to cease overnight camping and cooking at the plaza. More warnings were issued on Friday and Monday.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement that the city had maintained daily communication with the protesters and thanked those who “peacefully complied with city officials.”
“Over the last week it was apparent that neither the demonstrators nor the city could maintain safe or sanitary conditions, or control the ongoing vandalism,” Quan said.
The city said conditions at the plaza had begun to deteriorate by the second week of the protests, with police, fire and medical care reporting they were denied access to the plaza to respond to service calls.
The city also said it had received reports of a sexual assault and a severe beating, and that sanitation had worsened a rodent control problem in the plaza. Officials also said the plaza was damaged by graffiti, litter and vandalism.
The protest was the Oakland version of the movement launched more than a month ago as Occupy Wall Street in New York.
The protesters are angry at government bailouts of big banks, persistent high unemployment, and economic inequality in the United States. Demonstrations have spread across the nation and overseas, although crowds remain relatively small in most cities.
Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested in New York since the protests began. There have also been numerous arrests in other cities.
In the last week, Chicago police arrested about 130 protesters in Grant Park, the site of President Barack Obama’s victory speech on election night in 2008, and another 15 people at a protest in Philadelphia.
(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Emmett Berg and David Bailey; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)
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