The demonstrators at Occupy Oakland make up a group that is nothing if not diverse. As noted in most every major media outlet, no demographic or ideology has a monopoly on the protests, and this is especially true in Oakland, where peaceful protestors and people just looking to stir stuff up mingle and march in front of government buildings.
Unlike in many major and even minor cities, Occupy protesters in Oakland have spent time not only in public spaces, but in the streets of downtown and Oakland and even the port area. While marching is an accepted and expected element of non-violent protest, the more aggressive elements of Occupy Oakland crowds may be creating a situation that forces confrontations not just with police officers and government officials, but with drivers making their way through town.
The scene turned ugly Wednesday night, when the Mercury News reports a man was intentionally struck by a motorist at 11th and Broadway, right downtown. According to a witness on the scene, the driver of a Mercedes Benz became irritated by protestors making their way in the street from Frank Ogawa Plaza to the Port of Oakland and “deliberately ran over” two of them. The symbolism is impossible to miss.
An eye-witness told Mercury News that “The guy who got hit by the car hit the hood of the car, and then the driver hit the gas. This is a situation where you have two people with bad decision making skills.”
After striking the pedestrians, the male driver switched seats with his female passenger. However they could not make it through the crowd, which immediately swarmed the vehicle and pulled its occupants out as medics arrived to care for the injured demonstrators.
When police arrived, the driver was released. Perhaps law enforcement officers felt they had enough to deal with already.
“Moving forward, we still have the evening to get through,” City Administrator Deanna Santana told the Mercury. “I need to reinforce what we need to ensure our law enforcement can maintain public safety: We need no fires, no vandalism, no rocks, bottles or human waste thrown at officers. We need to enforce traffic and crowd control. With that, we can have more peaceful demonstrations.”
There’s an uneasy balance between taking to the streets to be heard and seen and inviting anarchy and the type of thoughtless, dangerous actions exhibited by the driver who wantonly ran through two protestors. Clearly, the usual law enforcement response would not have been to let such an incident go unpunished. But there’s no widely understood protocol for drivers and passengers in this situation.
As the protests show no sign of diminishing or losing momentum, drivers should expect delays in the downtown and port areas and are probably better off just avoiding the scene all together. Pedestrians may feel safe in a large group, but the reality is, any time you walk down the middle of a usually busy street in a unsanctioned march—the kind that really gets everyone’s attention—you take your safety into your own hands.
Photo credit: Brian Sims