OAKLAND (CBS SF) – About 30 shouting Occupy Oakland protesters disrupted a news conference near Lake Merritt Wednesday afternoon in which four City Council members and business leaders called for the immediate removal of the group’s month-long encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza.
City Council President Larry Reid had just begun speaking at the news conference, held at the bandstand in Lakeside Park, when protesters interrupted him, shouting, “Mic check!,” “We are the 99 percent!” and other slogans.
Reid tried to keep talking, and at one point there was a shouting match in which the council members, business leaders and their supporters yelled “Occupy Oakland—Let’s Go!” and the protesters yelled “We Are Oakland Too!”
The protesters continued shouting throughout the news conference, drowning out the council members and business leaders as they spoke.
Afterward, Reid said, “It was very frustrating. They attempted to deny our freedom of speech and it was not acceptable.”
Referring to the Occupy Oakland protesters, Reid, who is black, said, “I’ve listened to them and heard them yell at me and call me an Uncle Tom sellout and the ‘N’ word.”
But he vowed, “We’re not going to back down at all” on the call to have the tent city in Frank Ogawa Plaza removed.
City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente said the encampment “is absolutely intolerable and we can’t allow it to continue.”
He said the protesters’ attempt to shout down the speakers at the news conference “shows how supportive of free speech they are.”
De La Fuente said, “They don’t want to hear the other side.”
Council members Desley Brooks and Libby Schaaf also attempted to speak at the news conference.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan didn’t attend the news conference but she issued a statement in which she said she wants the council members to join her, City Administrator Deanna Santana, Police Chief Howard Jordan and community leaders “in implementing a plan to remove the encampment.”
Quan said, “While I am pleased to see a consensus developing on the council to remove the camp, I call on elected leaders who are clamoring for an immediate raid to put forward a plan that does not cause additional injury to people, property and our reputation, or result in another re-occupation.”
She said, “We know that a tiny minority thinks it is a sound strategy to pit our police against demonstrators. We call on everyone to reject provocation of violence.”
Occupy Oakland protester Max Bell Alper, of Berkeley, who helped the lead the effort to shout down the speakers at the news conference, said afterward that, “I’m really worried about another raid” on the encampment.”
He said he’s still suffering from injuries he sustained when officers from the Oakland Police Department and other law enforcement agencies raided the encampment the morning of Oct. 25 and temporarily shut it down. Tents sprung up again the next day.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Alper said.
Debra Grabelle, an Occupy Oakland protester who lives in De La Fuente’s district, said she joined others in disrupting the news conference because, “We were trying to make them listen to their constituents.”
Grabelle said she disagrees with city and business leaders who say the encampment is hurting business in downtown Oakland, saying she thinks the tent city “is helping business.”
She said she thinks the city will lose money “if they bring in the cops” to dismantle the encampment.”
Preston Turner, a member of the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council in the Melrose-High Hopes section of East Oakland, said he’s concerned that the Oakland Police Department’s focus on the encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza is keeping it from responding to crime in other parts of the city.
“Police are responding even slower to robberies, drug sales and loitering in the community” because they are busy with Occupy Oakland protests, Turner said.
He said prostitutes and pimps are out in full force on International Boulevard in East Oakland, an area that’s known for prostitution.
Turner said, “We support the 99 percent, but the Occupy people here in Oakland are totally destroying our community.”
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