NEW: "I plead not guilty," one NYC protester says after court
NEW: Police made unfair arrests in NYC, attorney says
64 charged NYC protesters go to court; 14 don't show up
Oakland is again the violent center of the Occupy movement
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Two major hubs of the Occupy movement – Oakland and New York City – recovered Thursday from West Coast violence and East Coast court actions, with both fronts continuing their protest camps despite their encounters with the law.
In violence-torn Oakland, authorities reopened Thursday the city’s port on San Francisco Bay after a night of Occupy demonstrations shut down the fifth-busiest port in the nation, a port spokesman said.
“The most current field reports confirm that in the port area there were no injuries, no property damage, and no major security problems from last night’s demonstrations,” port officials said. “There was a limited incursion into a private rail facility, and trespassers were escorted off peacefully.”
Meanwhile, in downtown Oakland, Occupy protesters continued their encampment Thursday in the park in front of City Hall following a night of violent clashes with police.
Just about every office building and store within a block of City Hall had been vandalized with spray-painted graffiti or broken windows from the overnight violence – which many of the Occupy demonstrators said was committed by a radical fringe of the movement.
A Wells Fargo bank near City Hall had plywood covering what had been a window.
City crews spent early Thursday morning clearing the debris – including overturned trash cans, tear gas canisters, and ash from fires. By daybreak, motorists and workers were moving about freely, with coffee cups in hand. Streets closed the day before were opened Thursday.
In New York on Thursday, 78 Occupy protesters charged with nonviolent offenses were scheduled for arraignment, and all but 14 of them showed up in court, said a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Of the 78 demonstrators, 53 indicated they wanted to go trial, and nine accepted an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” in which charges would be dismissed after six month if they aren’t arrested again, the spokeswoman said. One case was dismissed, and another case, a misdemeanor, was continued, the prosecutor’s office said.
One Occupy demonstrator, Alec Hall, whom police arrested September 24, was among the 53 persons rejecting the adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.
“It is very simple: I don’t feel like I need to be on probation for six months for expressing my right to freedom of speech,” Hall said. “I plead not guilty because I was on the sidewalk expressing my constitutionally protected right to dissent.”
Attorney Martin R. Stolar, a member of the National Lawyers Guild, which is supporting the Occupy protesters, said many demonstrators were arrested even after heeding police directions to stay on the sidewalk. He said the judge should throw out all the cases.
“We had previously asked the district attorney’s office to dismiss all these cases because of the ambiguity of the police directions,” Stolar said.
“I’m pleased that people recognized the fact that they don’t want to be on some form of probation, that they want to continue to engage in protest activity – not civil disobedience but protest activity,” Stolar said.
So far, New York authorities have made 555 arrests in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began in mid-September, on charges ranging from minor violations to felonies, said spokeswoman Erin M. Duggan of the district attorney’s office.
In downtown Oakland on Thursday, the clash between demonstrators and police escalated before dawn when authorities used tear gas on protesters who defied orders to disperse, police said. Authorities had earlier shut down the port.
In the violence, a crowd of several hundred people threw rocks and shot fireworks at officers after being asked to leave the scene, prompting officers to fire tear gas, authorities said.
After the port protest, Occupy Oakland demonstrators returned to a city park and nearby streets, where violence broke out.
Hazy video from the scene, posted on the Internet, showed a fire burning and fireworks exploding as at least one protester threw objects.
Police said in a statement that after a day of “primarily peaceful” demonstrations, they responded to a late-night call that protesters had broken into and occupied a downtown building and set several fires.
“The protesters began hurling rocks, explosives, bottles and flaming objects at responding officers,” the statement said. “Several private and municipal buildings sustained heavy vandalism.”
Dozens of protesters wielding shields were surrounded and arrested, police said.
Police issued their first order to protesters to clear the area about 11:55 p.m., the statement said. After “repeated orders” were issued, police were then ordered to fire tear gas and bean bags at the demonstrators.
Earlier Wednesday, police said a small group of protesters vandalized five businesses, including banks and a Whole Foods. The incidents involved graffiti and smashed windows, authorities said.
Maritime operations at the Port of Oakland were shut down late Wednesday, port officials said in a statement, and “the port has been taking steps to help workers in the harbor area get home safely.”
“Continued missed shifts represent economic hardship for maritime workers, truckers and their families, as well as lost jobs and lost tax revenue for our region,” the port statement said.
The port protest had a party feel, according to CNN affiliate KCBS, complete with a brass band.
Ben Bruso, 23, was among those blocking the port’s Gate One. He told KCBS he was there because he wants to get rid of government lobbying.
“Our government is being bought by corporations,” he said. “The middle class and lower class are being subjugated.”
The port closure, he said, “sends a message to the corporate world that we’re not going to sit by and take it anymore.”
Trucks that attempted to exit with cargo were forced to turn around, KCBS said. Drivers without cargo were allowed to pass.
“I just want to go home,” one truck driver told the station after being trapped by the crowd. “Why are they on top of my truck?”
One person was struck by a car Wednesday evening and taken to a hospital, according to the Oakland Fire Department.
Earlier Wednesday, protesters carried out an apparently successful strike of downtown Oakland businesses. Merchants and retailers closed their doors in what was largely a peaceful protest.
In Seattle Thursday, police used pepper spray on protesters who disrupted rush-hour traffic.
Hundreds of protesters surrounded a downtown Seattle hotel where JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was speaking, blocking streets.
“They got bailed out, we got sold out,” demonstrators chanted Wednesday night, referring to the billions of dollars in federal funds firms such as JPMorgan Chase received during the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008.
They called for “a citizen’s arrest” of Dimon, who was the keynote speaker at an event organized by the University of Washington’s school of business.
JPMorgan Chase announced in 2009 that it had repaid $25 billion it received through the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. The company also paid the U.S. Treasury Department $795 million in dividends.
The anti-Wall Street demonstrators clashed with police clad in riot gear near the hotel.
Five people were arrested on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing at a bank in another protest in the city, said Detective Jeff Kappel of the Seattle Police Department.
“At least 10 officers (nine officers and one sergeant) were physically assaulted while facilitating the removal of the arrested suspects from the scene,” Seattle police said in an official blog.
Occupy groups in other cities held solidarity actions to coincide with Oakland’s strike.
Demonstrators gathered Wednesday in New York City’s Zuccotti Park – considered a home base for the movement – for a 47th consecutive day.
New York City Police reported Wednesday they charged a 26-year-old Brooklyn man with sexual abuse for allegedly inappropriately touching an 18-year-old woman Tuesday evening in Zuccotti Park.
CNN’s Augie Martin reported from Oakland, Patrick Oppmann from Seattle, Michael Martinez from Los Angeles, Jordana Ossad from New York.