An anti-war demonstration at the Port of Oakland turned violent
this morning when Oakland Police opened fire with wooden dowels,
``sting balls,'' concussion grendades, tear gas and other non-lethal
weapons when protesters at the gates of two shipping lines refused
an order to disperse.
Scores of protesters ran from a line of police or tried to hide
behind nearby big rigs. At least a dozen demonstrators and nine
longshoremen who were standing nearby were injured.
``Our guys were standing in one area waiting to go to work, and
then the police started firing on the longshoremen,'' said Henry
Graham, the president of ILWU Local 10. ``Some were hit in the chest
with rubber bullets, and seven of our guys went to the hospital. I
don't want to imply that the police deliberately did this, but it
doesn't make sense.''
There have been so many anti-war demonstrations in the Bay Area
in recent months that they have almost become routine, and most have
been peaceful. Monday's events mark the first time that local police
have used projectiles to disperse crowds, and many demonstrators
said they were stunned that the projectiles were fired at such close
``I was just marching in a big circle and the police lowered
their guns at us,'' said Scott Fleming, 29, who took off his shirt
to reveal four large red and swollen welts on his back. ``I turned
to run and I started getting hit with wooden bullets. They just kept
shooting at us, and I kept running. I'm a lawyer, and I'm serioulsy
considering filing charges.''
The early morning mayhem came as a shock to veteran activists and
Oakland leaders alike. Oakland was one of the first cities in the
region to pass a resolution condeming the U.S.-led war with Iraq,
and the City Council has a progressive reputation. Some well known
public officials even turned out to participate in the early morning
``I got hit a few times with rubber bullets,'' said Dan Siegel,
an attorney and member of the Oakland School Board. Siegel pulled a
sting ball out of the pocket of his business suit and said he was
outraged that the police fired on a peaceful protest. ``The police
totally overreacted. It's over the top. They were reckless, and I
also saw an officer on a motorcycle run over a woman's foot.''
The port protest was one of several anti-war demonstrations held
Monday in the Bay Area. Several people were arrested at the Concord
Naval Weapons Station, and seven were arrested after they
temporarily blocked an off-ramp from Interstate 280 in San
Francisco. Other demonstrators walked in a circle in front of the
federal building in San Francisco, drumming wooden spoons together
as federal employees arrived for work.
The action at the Port was the largest. Hundreds of demonstrators
met near dawn Monday at the terminals of Neptune Orient Lines Ltd.'s
APL unit and Stevedoring Services of America, shipping companies
that activists say are profiting from the war.
In late March, Stevedoring Services of America won a $4.8 million
contract from the U.S. government to manage the Iraqi port Umm Qasr
and ensure that urgent food assistance and materials flow smoothly
through the seaport. Critics are screaming foul over the process,
which excluded any foreign companies from bidding on the lucrative
The demonstrations at the port were planned with the quiet
support of the ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse
Many rank-and-file members of ILWU Local 10 oppose the war with
Iraq, and the local has its own Anti-War Action Committee.
Police fired into the crowd after some protesters failed to clear
the street in front of the terminals.
``At that point, we fired non-lethal munitions,'' said Danielle
Ashford, an officer with the Oakland Police Department. ``There were
a few agitators in the crowd. The majority of them were
But others said they never saw any evidence of ``agitators'' and
urged any witnesses to come to Tuesday's City Council meeting.
``I was there from 5 a.m. on, and the only violence that I saw
was from the police,'' said Joel Tena, the constituent liason for
Vice Mayor Nancy Nadel. ``What happened today was very surprising.
It seemed the police were operating under the assumption that they
were not going to let any kind of protest happen.''