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After Arrests, Occupy Oakland Protesters Vow to Return

October 26, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Chaos erupted Tuesday night in downtown Oakland, Calif., as police dispersed crowds from the Occupy Oakland movement in the plaza in front of City Hall. Correspondent Spencer Michels reports from the center of the confrontation.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Next, two stories on the growing debate over inequality, Wall Street and the role of corporations.

First, police and protesters have begun clashing in some of the cities where demonstrators are taking part in the Occupy movement.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports from the center of one such confrontation.

A warning: Some viewers may find some of the images disturbing.

MAN: Leave now.

SPENCER MICHELS: Chaos reigned in downtown Oakland, Calif., overnight. Clouds of tear gas obscured protesters as they ran from police, their screams ringing through the night.

MAN: Taking away people’s right to peacefully assemble in this country, this is really outrageous.

SPENCER MICHELS: The confrontation erupted as police moved to disperse crowds from the Occupy Oakland movement, part of a wave of protests nationwide against social and economic inequality.

MAN: What happened? What happened?

SPENCER MICHELS: An Iraq war veteran was hit in the head with a projectile during a clash with Oakland police, an incident posted on YouTube. He was reported to be in critical condition at a hospital.

Similar clashes broke out earlier, when protesters tried to re-occupy the camp they’d been evicted from, outside Oakland’s City Hall before dawn.

MAN: The protesters were not being violent. They provoked protesters.

MAN: They shot tear gas into the crowd, flash-bangs. Women, children, grandmothers, grandfathers, they were all standing in the same spot.

SPENCER MICHELS: Police Chief Howard Jordan insisted they fired tear gas only after they were attacked by the crowd during the initial raid on the camp.

HOWARD JORDAN, Oakland Police chief: They had already thrown bottles at us. They were going back into a garbage can to retrieve more bottles. And by policy, we are allowed to use less lethal rounds to neutralize that person and take them into custody.

SPENCER MICHELS: Police also denied using flash-bang grenades, as demonstrators had charged. They said the explosions came from firecrackers thrown by protesters.

In all, upwards of 85 people were arrested. The plaza in front of Oakland’s City Hall was quiet today, in fact, eerily quiet, after the encampment of the protesters was dismantled overnight. Some reports were you could still smell tear gas here early this morning, and there may be more as the demonstrators have vowed to come back.

The city’s plan to break down the camp had been in the works for at least a week, with officials citing a hazard to public health. The decision to move in ultimately fell to City Administrator Deanna Santana. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was in Washington on business and returned today.

DEANNA SANTANA, Oakland City administrator: I made the decision with the team that was in place to put an end to what I see as a very critical situation that posed significant risk.

SPENCER MICHELS: But it appeared last night’s violence might be only a taste of what’s to come. Members of Occupy Oakland warned today they won’t be moved.

Mike Porter, a DirecTV salesman, took a week off work to join the protest. He spent eight days in the encampment.

MIKE PORTER, protester: If you’re coming down here because you don’t like the police, you’re not coming down for the right reasons. You might as well just stay at home, unless you’re coming down to get educated.

SPENCER MICHELS: The Occupy movement grew out of a series of demonstrations in New York City known as Occupy Wall Street.

Protests have since spread to a host of other cities, Portland, Maine, Chicago, Ill., and Denver, Colo., among them. In Atlanta, authorities say the threat of a weapon was one factor that spurred riot police to move in last night.

During the afternoon, a man had walked around a protesters’ camp site openly carrying an AK-47 assault rifle.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said that forced the city’s hand.

KASIM REED, mayor of Atlanta, Ga.: We could not determine whether the weapon was loaded and could not get additional information on the weapon.

SPENCER MICHELS: But the protesters insisted they didn’t know the man with the gun.

MAN: We have nothing to do with this. We did our job and informed the police. And the police are watching him.

SPENCER MICHELS: The order to clear the park came late in the night. More than 100 people were arrested, and some had to be carried off.

In the meantime, the protesters found some support in a new CBS News/New York Times poll. It found that 43 percent of Americans agree with the views of the Occupy Wall Street movement; 27 percent were opposed.

Back in Oakland today, one woman viewing the scene of last night’s trouble said she had problems with both sides.

MONIQUE MOORE, eyewitness: I don’t believe the police should be out here like this either. I think that it’s intimidating children and single parents like myself. My daughter was scared the other day when they were all coming down the street marching. She was like, what’s going on? We’re like, it’s OK. We’re going to be OK. So, I believe it’s just exaggerated a little too much to me.  

SPENCER MICHELS: On both sides, it seems like.

MONIQUE MOORE: Right, yes.

PROTESTERS: We are the 99 percent.

SPENCER MICHELS: For now, law enforcement officials and neighborhood groups in a number of cities are grappling with how to handle the camps and the issues raised by their ongoing presence.