Was the Raid on Occupy Oakland Really Necessary?

Both the protesters and the police are at fault for the violence on Tuesday


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Police officers with less-lethal munitions reconnect during an "Occupy Wall Street" demonstration, in response to an early morning police raid which displaced Occupy Oakland's tent city / Reuters

I'm not clear on what happened in Oakland last night, except that it was bad. The police are saying that they had to deploy beanbags and maybe tear-gas because people started throwing bottles, plates, and rocks when they tried to clear out the encampment at Occupy Oakland. I don't find this entirely implausible.  

The protesters are saying that when their authority was challenged, the police reacted with overwhelming and inappropriate force, which I also don't find entirely implausible.  Since the police and the protesters seem, to date, to be the only two witnesses to this event, I can't really call this one.

Since I don't really know which side is at fault (both, maybe) I'll offer some unsolicited advice to all parties.

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First, to the protesters: do not throw things, especially things that might, say, break and sever an artery of a vulnerable policeman.  No matter how towering the injustices you are protesting against, there is nothing that is going to undermine your cause faster than killing or severely wounding a cop, a lesson that the student radicals learned to their great dismay in the 1970s.  If you want to ensure that every Occupy protest gets broken up by overwhelming force, while the rest of America applauds the forces of law and order, just try really hurting a few law enforcement professionals.  If you want to alter anything other than your own health, you need broad public support, and no matter how screwed up you think America is, it's still bourgeois enough that you are not going to get it by rioting.  If you have elements among you who are looking for trouble, you'd better root them out before they destroy the whole movement.

And second, to the cops, and the city officials who tell the cops what to do: I understand that you say things turned violent after you started clearing out the park.  But why was it necessary to clear out the park?

Yes, I understand that there was smell and noise and that things were getting unsanitary.  But given the fact that this is a national movement, which implies some decently broad base of support, there should have been a presumption against going in.  And if you're going to, it seems like a very good idea to well-document the offenses against public decency.  If you can show evidence that piles of human feces and rotting food were accumulating everywhere, and vandalism in the neighborhood had shot up, then most people are going to be sympathetic to the notion that the protesters had to go. If what we mean by "unsanitary" is that there was some litter, well, maybe err on the side of discretion, rather than creating martyrs by teargassing folks in wheelchairs.

This doesn't seem like it was necessary.  And it seems like it may galvanize a whole other round of these things -- including in Oakland.  Is it really worth violence to keep people from sleeping in a park?
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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