OAKLAND (Reuters) – Riot police arrested more than 100 anti-Wall Street protesters during a series of clashes in the streets of Oakland on Saturday that saw officers in riot gear firing tear gas at activists who tried to take over a shuttered convention center.
Three officers were injured during the running confrontations, which police said first erupted when the crowd began destroying construction equipment and tearing down fencing at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in downtown Oakland in the early afternoon.
“Officers were pelted with bottles, metal pipe, rocks, spray cans, improvised explosive devices and burning flares,” the Oakland Police Department said in a statement. “Oakland Police Department deployed smoke and tear gas.”
The scuffles marked the latest confrontation between police and Occupy activists seeking to regain lost momentum in their movement against economic inequality after authorities cleared protest camps across the country late last year.
Occupy Oakland organizers had vowed to take over the fenced-off building to establish a new headquarters for their movement and draw attention to homelessness in a move seen as a challenge to authorities who have blocked similar efforts before.
Police said 19 people were arrested near the convention center and another 100 taken into custody after they were corralled by officers outside a YMCA in downtown Oakland.
“The one percent have all these empty buildings, and meanwhile there are all these homeless people,” protester Omar Yassin told Reuters at the scene.
Near the convention center, several dozen police officers declared an unlawful assembly and confronted the demonstrators at a fence, firing smoke and tear gas canisters into the crowd after telling protesters to disperse through loudspeakers.
AMERICAN FLAG BURNS
Some activists, carrying shields made of plastic garbage cans and corrugated metal, tried to circumvent the police line, and surged toward police on another side of the building as more smoke canisters were fired.
“The City of Oakland welcomes peaceful forms of assembly and freedom of speech, but acts of violence, property destruction and overnight lodging will not be tolerated,” police said in a statement.
Later, hundreds of demonstrators regrouped and marched through downtown Oakland, where they were repeatedly confronted by police in riot gear. Police at several points fired flash-bang grenades into the crowd and swung batons at protesters.
Later a group of demonstrators made their way to City Hall, where they brought out a U.S. flag and set it on fire before scattering ahead of advancing officers.
Protesters in Oakland loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last year have repeatedly clashed with police during a series of marches and demonstrations.
In October, former U.S. Marine Scott Olsen was left in critical condition with a head injury following a confrontation with police on the streets of Oakland in which tear gas was deployed.
Organizers said Olsen was struck in the head by a tear gas canister. Authorities opened an investigation into that incident but have not said how they believe he was hurt.
Elsewhere, the National Park Service said on Friday it would bar Occupy protesters in the nation’s capital, one of the few big cities where Occupy encampments survive, from camping in two parks where they have been living since October.
That order, which takes effect on Monday, was seen as a blow to one of the highest-profile chapters of the movement.
(Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)