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26 Oct, 2011 11:14

Occupy Oakland: Tear gas & flashbang grenades (VIDEO)

Police used tear gas on at least three separate occasions to disperse more than 1,000 demonstrators who took to the streets of Oakland, California Tuesday evening as running street battles engulfed the city for more than six hours.

Thick billows of smoke and exploding projectiles filled the streets of downtown Oakland as television footage showed a man who was bleeding after reportedly being hit in the head by a tear gas canister, the Oakland Tribune reports.  "We had to deploy gas to stop people from throwing rocks and bottles at police," said Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan, as cited by the daily.  However, other unconfirmed reports indicate that flash-bang grenades and wooden dowels – solid, cylindrical rods – were used against protesters.

The authorities denied those reports, however, claiming that the commotion had been caused by protesters who were lobbing fireworks at police.  The conflicting reports came as live helicopter camera feeds for both ABC and CBS news networks were apparently cut right before police hurled tear gas canisters, only to cut back in later, as reported by the popular website, Gawker.

Protesters say that at least three were injured and more than 105 arrested in the skirmishes.  Among the wounded was Veterans for Peace member Scott Olsen, who was struck by a non-lethal round fired by either San Francisco Sheriffs deputies or Palo Alto Police at 14th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland, as shown by amateur footage shot by Ali Winston.Problems began when protesters attempted to retake an encampment that had been broken up at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza before dawn on Tuesday. Police arrested some 75 people who refused to vacate the area.  Authorities claim the encampment was broken up over public safety concerns.The Plaza, which many protesters have started calling the "Oscar Grant Plaza" after an unarmed man who was killed by police in 2009, has become the epicenter for the Occupy Oakland movement.

In response, at around 4 pm, some 500 protesters gathered at the Oakland library, where they had planned to march back to the Plaza.    Marching through the streets of Oakland, demonstrators chanted they would “reclaim” the Plaza.  According to one protester identified as Mr. Smith, the marchers had every intention of proceeding peacefully despite the heavy police presence.  “I got the feeling they meant business, but people were not going to be intimidated. We can do this peacefully, but still not back down,” he said as cited by the Daily Mail.

Trouble began when police officers in riot gear attempted to block the path of the marchers.  Reports indicate the situation escalated after some demonstrators began to throw red and turquoise paint at the police.  While many demonstrators urged calm, tensions erupted as police clubbed more aggressive protesters.  Occupy Oakland began on October 10, and, like movements inspired by Occupy Wall Street  all over the country, focused on corporate greed and rampant unemployment.However, in a city notorious for violence and poverty, the movement became increasingly focused on local issues, including housing rights, fair wages, and support for prisoners who had gone on hunger strike.