Protesters occupy the Oakland city council chamber in support of affordable housing and against police brutality on May 5, 2015. Protesters took over a city council meeting and continued to occupy the space following the meeting.
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Protesters hold a “People’s Council” after taking over the Oakland City Council chambers Tuesday night.
Members of the Oakland City Council had to stall a long-anticipated meeting Tuesday when protesters stormed the dais, unfurling a banner with the slogan “The People’s City Council.”
Dozens of protesters gathered outside City Hall as Mayor Libby Schaafpresented her first budget to the council, using bullhorns to denounce a controversial condo proposal on a piece of public land abutting Lake Merritt, which the council was expected to approve during the meeting.
One, Josh Healey, introduced himself as a resident of the East Lake district, which surrounds the site where the tower is proposed.
“This is gentrification on steroids,” he told the crowd, before leading a song about the mayor, to the tune of a ditty by rapper Biggie Smalls.
Schaaf and the city’s budget director were midway through a presentation of the budget when the group marched into the atrium of City Hall, chanting and waving signs. Though the protest mostly centered on the Lake Merritt tower, participants also carried signs for other causes, such as police reform.
When the mayor concluded her talk, a crowd of perhaps 40 protesters stormed the dais. After about a 10-minute standoff, the council went into recess, and eventually adjourned the meeting.
Several people formed a human chain linking their arms through tubes. Protesters took over the city’s TV system and used it to broadcast their own meeting, which, they stressed, had no time limits for speakers.
Demonstrations during Oakland City Council meetings aren’t unprecedented, though none has ever been this long or this “grossly disruptive,” said councilman Dan Kalb, who looked befuddled by the protests, as he and his colleagues tried to figure out what to do.
“Other jurisdictions would not put up with this,” Kalb said, adding that the protesters were preventing a vote on an issue they claimed to support: a resolution to consolidate all walk-in citizen complaints against the Oakland police at the Citizens’ Police Review Board.
Sharon Rose, a member of the Block by Block Coalition, a watchdog group that had come to speak on the police complaints issue, said she was surprised by the protest, though she supported the sentiment behind it.
“My friends might have known about it,” she said.
Participants in the council occupation claimed to represent various radical organizations, among them Black.Seed and East Lake United for Justice, two groups that have vociferously opposed the condo tower at Lake Merritt.
Kalb believes they are rogue groups that don’t appear to have any connection to the coalitions that typically show up to stump at council meetings.
Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said she had anticipated a significant turnout at Tuesday’s meeting, though she hadn’t expected anything “this boisterous.”
Kaplan expressed sympathy for the protesters’ causes.
“Affordable housing, police conduct, black people being targeted — I hope no one will take the style of this crowd as taking away from the seriousness of these issues,” she said.
Though perhaps a dozen police officers were patrolling the chambers, they stood by as the protesters’ meeting went on into the night.
At 9 p.m., one of the organizers called for the meeting to wrap up, saying the group had accomplished what it set out to do.
She promised to come back the next time the condo tower appears on the agenda.