Blog of Rights

From Coast to Coast, Occupy Movement Springs Into Action

Occupy Report from Oakland (by Rebecca Farmer, ACLU of Northern California)

The May Day protests in Oakland saw a great deal of police presence and use of force, but not quite to the degree that we saw during demonstrations in the fall of 2011. Still, reports of multiple rounds of tear gas, flash bang grenades and possibly other projectiles raise questions. The OPD has a clear policy governing how it should deal with protests, but the department has violated protesters’ rights on far too many occasions in the past. The policy and common sense require OPD to use the minimal force necessary to disperse a crowd.

We are still assessing whether OPD and other agencies unnecessarily escalated tensions when the OPD quickly turned to the flash bang grenades and tear gas to disperse crowds, when the Alameda County Sheriff drove a tank through downtown Oakland in the middle of the afternoon, and when a protestor who was already pinned to the ground by officers was tased in the leg. Excessive police force is never acceptable, and certainly not when it is used against non-violent political protesters. (Coincidentally, on May Day, a federal judge ordered the city of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department to submit a plan within one week to address backlogged complaints regarding their handling of earlier Occupy protests.)

By Katherine Bromberg, New York Civil Liberties Union

Earlier this week, from New York City to Oakland, tens of thousands took to the streets to Occupy on May Day.  News reports indicate that in New York City alone more than 30,000 people rallied and protested. The New York Civil Liberties Union had 20 legal observers stationed across the city who reported live updates and photos for our Twitter feed. Because we are well aware that those in the movement regularly rely on our reporting and materials about their rights, we also distributed our “What to Do if You Are Stopped by the Police” and “Your Right to Demonstrate” pocket cards.

The NYPD response to the protest was moderate for the majority of the day, with some exceptions including: executing old warrants to target and question protesters; interfering with journalists, including at least one arrest; the use of excessive force, including striking peaceful protesters with batons; and the use of extensive barricading and efforts to break up and disperse marches in the evening hours.  Reports indicate that there were some 90 arrests overall, over the course of the day.

After a day of marches, gatherings, and other activities, a mile long march of Occupiers, unions, students, musicians, artists, and countless others marched down Broadway in solidarity, finally gathering at Veteran’s Park, which is conveniently located at the ACLU and NYCLU’s doorstep. 

Despite some obstacles that Occupiers faced, OWS deemed May Day a great success, and we at the NYCLU are always pleased about opportunities to educate New Yorkers about their rights!  For more information about rights while demonstrating, you can visit NYCLU’s www.OccupyYourRights.org or check out the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protest” guide online.

If you have stories about police mistreatment of protesters and journalists in New York, please forward your stories, pictures, and videos to protest@nyclu.org. To learn more about local ACLU affiliates involvement with Occupy movements around the country, check out our map.

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