OAKLAND, Calif. – About 300 people were arrested Saturday during a chaotic day of Occupy protests that saw demonstrators break into City Hall and burn an American flag.
Police fired tear gas and used “flash” grenades to disperse hundreds of people after some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles and tore down fencing outside a convention center.
It was the most turbulent day of protests since November, when Oakland police forcefully dismantled an Occupy encampment. An exasperated Mayor Jean Quan, who faced heavy criticism for the police action last fall, called on the Occupy movement to “stop using Oakland as its playground.”
“People in the community and people in the Occupy movement have to stop making excuses for this behavior,” she said.
Authorities say protesters clashed with police throughout the day. The protests grew as the day wore on with an estimated 2,000 demonstrators in the streets at one point.
Most of the arrests came around 8 p.m., when police took scores of protesters into custody as they marched through the city’s downtown, with some entering a YMCA building, police said.
Many other demonstrators were arrested earlier in the afternoon, after police said they threw rocks, bottles and other objects at officers and tore down fencing.
At about the same time police were taking people into custody near the YMCA, about 100 police officers surrounded City Hall, while others swept the inside of the building looking for protesters who had broken into the building, then ran out of the building with American flags before officers arrived.
Quan said that at one point, many forced their way into City Hall, where they burned flags, broke into an electrical box and damaged several art structures, including a recycled art exhibit created by children.
More help from other police agencies was also sent to Oakland, with busloads of Alameda County sheriff’s deputies arriving in the downtown area late Saturday.
City Administrator Deanna Santana said protesters pelted officers with bottles, metal pipes, rocks and burning flares and police responded by deploying smoke, tear gas and bean bag rounds.
“These demonstrators stated their intention was to provoke officers and engage in illegal activity and that’s exactly what has occurred today,” Santana said.