A man was shot Thursday outside the Oakland encampment that anti-Wall Street protesters have occupied for the last month, but an organizer for Occupy Oakland said the attack was unrelated to the ongoing protest of U.S. financial institutions.
After at least two shots were fired and the man collapsed, screams rang out across the crowded plaza outside Oakland City Hall where the Occupy Oakland encampment is located. The camp, which has about 180 tents, sits in the middle of the plaza and is ringed by a transit station and ground-floor shops.
Paramedics on the scene tended to the bleeding man, whose condition was not immediately known. Police were interviewing to simultaneously identify witnesses, locate suspects and try to contain a crowd of protesters who tried to prevent television cameramen from taking video.
Shake Anderson, an Occupy Oakland organizer who has slept at the camp since it was erected exactly a month ago, said the wounded man could not be associated with the protest because he did not recognize him. Just before the shooting, a group of strangers ran into the encampment as if they were looking for someone, Anderson said.
“The person on the ground was not part of the occupation. I can verify that,” Anderson said. “This is a street incident. It happens all the time.”
Drug and gang-related shootings are not uncommon in downtown Oakland, and city leaders have complained the encampment has pulled law enforcement resources away from solving them. Thursday’s shooting in the center of the debated camp comes a day after a group of Oakland city and business leaders held a news conference demanding the removal of the encampment, saying that it has hurt downtown businesses and has continued to pose safety concerns.
Many protesters fear police will eventually move forward with another early morning raid to remove them. A tear gas-filled clash between demonstrators and police on Oct. 25 resulted in more than 100 arrests and left an Iraq War vet with a serious brain injury.
Mayor Jean Quan allowed the protesters to return to the encampment the day after that raid. The camp has since grown to about 180 tents.
But tensions and safety concerns have resurfaced in recent says, and on Wednesday, Quan asked members of the camp to show respect to the people of Oakland by peacefully leaving. That night, lights at the plaza went out, which the city said was due to a tripped circuit. Protesters have claimed the loss of light is part of a plan to force them out.
“This is what happens, if you don’t have lights in the plaza, in an open area,” Anderson said. “This tactic is getting people killed.”
Before the shooting, protesters were planning to have a party Thursday night to commemorate the encampment’s one-month anniversary with music, dancing, a slide show and donated cakes.
A shooting also rocked the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Vermont on Thursday. A 35-year-old military veteran apparently shot himself in Burlington, fellow protesters said. A hospital spokesman said later the man had died.
Police would not characterize the circumstances of the shooting.
“This person has clearly needed more help than we were capable of giving him here at this park,” said Emily Reynolds, a University of Vermont student and a leader in the local Occupy movement.
If government provided better mental health services, she said, “this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
The shooting took place in or near a tent at the encampment. Deputy Chief Andi Higbee said police were trying to notify the man’s family; his name was not released. He is believed to be from the Burlington area.
Higbee told reporters in the park it could be several hours before the protesters were allowed to return to their tent and that the shooting made him question whether the protest would be allowed to continue.
In Portland, the mayor on Thursday ordered one of the largest Occupy Wall Street camps in the country to shut down this weekend over concerns about unhealthy conditions and the encampment’s attraction of drug users and thieves, but a faction of protesters pledged to resist any eviction attempts.