What Could a Weekend of Violence Mean for the Occupy Movement?

From Oakland to London, a series of clashes over the weekend have pushed the Occupy movement into the public eye once again.

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Occupy Oakland protesters on January 28, 2012.

After a quiet start to the new year, a weekend of Occupy protests has resulted in hundreds of arrests in Oakland and accusations of police violence in London.

The American arm of the disputes began on Saturday afternoon, when Occupy Oakland protesters reportedly began dissembling construction barricades surrounding an empty convention center, with the intention of occupying the building. The Oakland police are no strangers to confrontation; they were widely lambasted for their enforcement tactics against the group in October. But according to a statement issued by the Oakland police, this weekend’s events saw the police as the targeted group, as officers were “pelted with bottles, metal pipes, rocks, spray cans, improvised explosive devices and burning flares.” After refusing to disperse at the police force’s demand, the crowd of protesters was subjected to tear gas.

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But the clash carried on when, a few hours later, City Hall was broken into and vandalized, according to officials. “Once again, a violent splinter group of the Occupy movement is engaging in violent actions against Oakland,” mayor Jean Quan said in a statement. “The Bay Area Occupy Movement has got to stop using Oakland as their playground.”

The mayhem resulted in anywhere from 200 to 400 arrests and the injury of at least three police officers. The Occupy Oakland movement responded to the police reports in its own statement, with a measure of condemnation for the city: “With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority? Was it worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent?”

Meanwhile, things were heating up across the pond. While the Occupy London movement has mostly been centered at St. Paul’s Cathedral near the London Stock Exchange, satellite groups set up camp in Finsbury Square and a vacant office block owned by UBS, known to protesters as the Bank of Ideas. And it was in the Bank of Ideas, an informal educational center for the movement, where things kicked off just after midnight on Sunday night. Surprisingly, it was the eviction of dozens of protesters that was the easy part. After the Occupiers had been removed from the building, protesters alleged that one bailiff assaulted a photographer before driving a car through the crowd. Scotland Yard has since announced that one bailiff has been arrested due to charges of assault.

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While the strife in London was markedly different from the clash in Oakland, it was worrying for those protesters awaiting their fate over at St. Paul’s, who imagined glimpses of the possible future. The movement’s media team said that the late-night eviction and violence did “raise great concerns for Occupy London as it begins a week in which its Occupy London Stock Exchange occupation by St. Paul’s faces eviction.”

And it’s looking increasingly like they might have something to be concerned about. After a court ruled that the St. Paul’s protesters could be legally evicted by the City of London from the church property, the group has been planning appeals and negotiating with cathedral officials to find a way to stay or at least keep a presence in the area. St. Paul’s had even offered to allow the Occupy movement to keep a long-term exhibit or stand on the grounds, so long as the camp cleared out their tents from the area. But  past resistance from the movement has led the the City of London to take the hardline, refusing any compromise. “The time for talking has gone,” a spokesman told the Guardian. The remaining questions is, has the time for a sweeping — and possibly violent — eviction entered in its place?

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