by Jazmine Davis
On November 24, I joined about 30 other people in occupying Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland to demand adequate housing for homeless people and the end of encampment evictions.
The occupation started out very successful; people were interested in what we were doing, wanted to learn how they could contribute, and were overall supportive of the action. We were out there with tents, food and literature for most of the day until the sun started to go down. People took the time to stay and discuss the city’s inhumane treatment of the encampments with us and some people wanted to get involved in the work we were doing. But once it got dark, the Oakland Police Department said that we would have to leave the plaza around 10 p.m., otherwise they would issue citations. Of course, we took this as an intimidation tactic and around 10 o’clock, we locked ourselves in the tents. The significance in locking the tents is that it is considered an illegal search and seizure for police to enter them while they are a “locked home.”
10 o’clock rolled around and the police had yet to do anything. At this time, we had a lot of community support and they were strategically waiting for the media, and people who had no intention of staying in a tent that night to leave. At one point, they all left and we assumed that they didn’t want to engage but it wasn’t until around midnight, that about 60 officers came in and started destroying our tents. As they were doing so, we started chanting and asserting our First Amendment right to public assembly and free speech.
Chants of “where’s your warrant” and “this is illegal” started to erupt while OPD shrugged and simply replied with arrogant dismissals. “You can just file a lawsuit later,” one officer said. “You’re just doing this for the photo op,” another said. They completely disregarded the law so they could break up our occupation. As the arrests started, people outside the tents started filming.
It is absolutely against the law for OPD to do anything but issue citations and release us, as they don’t know who or who is not houseless at the time of arrest, and because this was considered a protest. However, that is not what happened.
After destroying tents, the police gave us an option to leave willingly or to stay and get arrested. Most of us chose to stay and face arrest, but were unprepared for what the next 24 hours would entail. Some of us were forcibly removed and as a result, still have injuries; others complied but still face a resisting arrest charge. The police not only violated our rights, but also our bodies. They groped some of us as we were being patted down and female-assigned people were denied the request to be patted down by a female officer.
Some of us were thrown together into large vans while others, including myself, were in separate squad cars alone. I sat in the car while they were continuing to gather the rest of the arrestees for about an hour until an officer came into the car to write the report. At this point, it was clear that they were unprepared for this kind of mass arrest and it took him the entire ride to Santa Rita to write a report. He asked me invasive questions about how we planned the occupation, of course, and it was clear that our arrests were a direct request from Mayor Libby Schaff.
Once at Santa Rita, we were in a holding cell for most of the time. It should come as no surprise that the conditions at Santa Rita are beyond inhumane, and I could never compare to the abuse our trans comrades faced while we were there.
We were psychologically tortured and harassed through means of solitary confinement and verbal abuse. Officers mocked and threatened to tase us; experiencing jail was traumatic, to say the least, but it doesn’t compare with what incarcerated folks constantly deal with while they’re there for years at a time. Though our arrest was unconstitutional, I’m thankful my time in jail was short.
As terrible as this experience was, we will continue to push the city to end unlawful evictions and provide sustainable housing for the unhoused community.