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*In the interest of full transparency, it should be noted that the author was present during the raids covering the event for another media outlet. This is both a first-hand and researched account of the raid.
Before 6am PST on April 2, 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) raided Oaksterdam University in downtown Oakland. The Oakland Police Department was not notified the raid would be happening, or that it would be taking place on the street during rush hour.
By 8am, officers had already taken over the main campus at 1600 Broadway where a small crowd of protestors had begun to assemble.
Within hours, members of the Occupy Oakland camp, whose eviction from the camp a couple blocks away at City Hall sparked international outrage about six months earlier, joined the protests in support of Oaksterdam University.
By mid-morning transit busses had been rerouted from downtown Oakland as OPD blocked off major thoroughfares to accommodate the growing crowd. Word started trickling through Twitter and text messages that the DEA was moving its agents to other targets, the Oaksterdam Gift Shop and Coffee Shop Blue Sky.
Blue Sky was established by Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee, who bankrolled California’s failed Proposition 19 in 2010. Proposition 19 was the first ballot initiative for legal recreational use of marijuana.
As social media accounts grew, the crowds at each raid location moved from point to point to follow the DEA. Protestors broke off from the crowd at 1600 Broadway to move one block away to the Oaksterdam gift, where officers had already sealed off the store and were exiting with Rubbermaids full of “evidence” to their vehicles.
As the rest of Oakland woke up and got on social media, people from all over the world began tweeting and retweeting locations and events from on the ground in Oakland.
The crowd got word the DEA had just entered Coffee Shop Blue Sky, another block away— word moved faster this time and the majority of protestors from both other locations moved to the protests at Coffee Shop Blue Sky.
Protestors lead chants of “DEA, GO AWAY” while others chimed in individualized versions of the message that Oaksterdam is vital to the economic health of the City, especially since the economic collapse, and that the raid would destroy the fledgling economy of an already struggling city.
A local citizen-journalist affiliated with the Occupy movement, Bella Eiko, held her iPad camera up to a crack in the sheeting agents had set up inside the glass storefront to obstruct public view. The iPad was able to give protestors a first-hand view of the agents inside, which resulted in increasingly louder chants. Shortly after, glass was shattered from the inside by agents. The crowd grew tense and terrified.
And here is where what happens next gets tricky. From the street level, protestors and observers could see the glass being broken from the inside; people all over the country watched multiple broadcasts live online.
Exact cause of the glass breaking is unclear, but what it is clear is it came from inside the storefront. The action resulted in protestors moving away from the door to protect their own safety, after the space was created 3-4 officers exited the coffee shop and formed a line in front of the door.
Someone in the crowd began a “mic check”, the process of shouting the words mic check in order to calm the crowd and prepare them for instructions to be repeated to those standing behind them. The process was a tactic established by the Occupy Wall Street group in Zucotti Park, New York City.
The crowd was instructed to sit and block agents inside—but then a fight ensued; there was a scuffle, confusion and arrests. While the crowd’s attention was diverted to the scuffle, remaining officers easily exited and closed Coffee Shop Blue Sky.
Police reports from the incident state the officers felt trapped and threatened by the crowd, although the crowd had not given indication the peaceful protests would turn violent.
Officers violently pushed through the tightly packed crowd toward Jose. Journalists and protestors, both groups while still shooting, recording and streaming the incident, were slammed into each other, creating a scuffle.
Jose was thrown to the ground and beaten by officers.
More officers arrived on the scene from behind the protests and moved in on the crowd. Many protestors quickly moved to get away from the scuffle, to clear the space. Activist and journalist, Jose Gutierrez, had already been taken down.
Photos stills taken from building across the street show what is known as a “snatch squad” being used to target Jose to create a distraction. A snatch squad is a tactic used by riot police to break up protests or aid officers trapped in a compromising situation.
Officers create a v-formation to target one or more people seen to be leading “riot activities” a distraction is created so agents can begin to take command of the situation again.
Agents came from behind the crowd and closed in around Jose. In less than a minute the crowd had moved away from the door, officers “trapped” inside exited and closed the building.
Jose was arrested and detained; protestors began following agents through the streets with cameras while still chanting protests. Some sat down to make a human line to peacefully prevent their crossing with the evidence.
As the crowd moved peacefully behind the officers who were moving towards their cars, two blocks away, armed guards appeared on the scene to deter the crowd. The crowd thinned significantly at the presence of weapons.
As the DEA left the scene and the crowd began to thin out, word travelled through the crowd that across town at Oikos University, a Korean Christian University, seven people had been fatally shot by a disgruntled former student, three were left injured.
“It’s so unfortunate. I mean, we have got in Oakland a real need for law enforcement resources on real crime that’s a threat to people,” said Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilwomen-At-Large, in a public statement to the press. “If there’s extra law enforcement resources available, it would be nice if it would be devoted to illegal gun crime and stopping illegal gun dealers.”
Oaksterdam University was a beacon of hope to downtown Oakland. The city center is now a shell of what it has been and what it can be. Its main artery, Broadway, was at one point empty storefronts and liquor stores, Oaksterdam was a sign of changing times.
Oaksterdam officially opened its doors at 15th street in Downtown Oakland and could house 20 students. After it outgrew that location, it opened up its iconic location at 19th and Broadway, which would later become the Prop 19 headquarters, then the Oaksterdam Museum. Today, it is the Oakland Community Partners, a permitted dispensary which used to be Coffee Shop Blue Sky.
Enrollment drove growth in both employment and facilities: a student union was added, an unaffiliated gift shop (raided) and Lee’s original dispensary, Coffee Shop Blue Sky (also raided), was moved to a larger facility.
In early 2010, Oaksterdam moved into the four-story building at 1600 Broadway, which became famous for the mural painted on its side, a major tourist attraction.
As the city began to see an artist-inspired renaissance, local businesses began to make Broadway and surrounding downtown streets home, most notably, Oaksterdam University. Art galleries, coffee shops, bars and restaurants sprang up, bringing attention to Oakland’s growing youth and artist culture, fueled by a tech-boom backed rent surge just a quick ten-minute train ride away in San Francisco.
Since its inception, Oaksterdam continued to grow and develop positive relationships with city officials and the community. According to President Dale Sky Jones, the University had developed such great relationships with the Oakland Police Department that police would use Oaksterdam’s restrooms during large events downtown.
“Students used to come from all over the country to Oakland to attend Oaksterdam, or even just tour it, they would stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants,” says Jones, “They still come, but not as many.”
Jones became the lead spokeswoman for the Proposition 19 campaign, which was funded by Richard Lee and sought to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2010. The initiative failed by a narrow margin but inspired other similar initiatives in the states of Colorado and Washington, which now have legal recreational marijuana.
Jones’s husband, Jeff Jones, established Oaksterdam in the nineties and today runs the Patient ID Center, which is at the heart of the Oaksterdam neighborhood and was the first place in the nation medical marijuana “cards” were registered and printed so that patients could verify their medical status at dispensaries without providing the signed paper documentation provided by a doctor. Oakland and San Francisco have historically been the first to embrace medical cannabis, many of its marijuana businesses are the longest and most established in the nation.
“We used to have thousands of students a semester, now we are down to about one hundred, people think we have closed since the raid. The reality is we are still going strong and have actually improved our programs and added classes” said Dale Sky Jones.
Oaksterdam was asked to leave the building at 1600 Broadway by the landlord. The famous mural on its side was painted over and it remains empty with a “for sale” sign in the window.
THE CASE AGAINST JOSE GUTIERREZ
A snatch squad was used to target Jose Gutierrez, a long-time journalist with Berkeley-based Pacifica radio affiliate KPFA as well as prominent medical marijuana activist and community organizer.
Police reports indicate officers had targeted Gutierrez shortly after he arrived at 1600 Broadway around 8:00am PST.
Earlier that morning, Gutierrez drove from Santa Rosa, over an hour away from Oakland, upon learning the facilities were being raided. Gutierrez showed up wearing a bull mask across his face and mouth with a sign that read, “The Department of Justice are Bullies.”
Police reports show the bull mask was interpreted as a pig mask, a dig at police.
A friend and other activist had showed up with a bullhorn to protest the raids at the main campus at 1600 Broadway. The friend was notified that he could not use the bullhorn without a permit. He left the scene and came back minutes later with a permit that had been issued by Oakland City Hall.
Internal police documents from the day show this was when officers took notice of both the activist and Jose Gutierrez, specifically Gutierrez, and began tracking his movements in the crowd. To the police, Jose’s chants and protest statements had gotten inflammatory, according to police reports, this had gotten personal to them and Jose was named the target in the snatch squad.
Gutierrez was taken into custody—after being taken to a local hospital to attend to his injuries. He was then booked; location unknown, and his wife spent the next day searching at county and city jails until he was found and bailed out.
Jose is the father of two young children, he is non violent and a major advocate for medical marijuana as well as the Latino community in Northern California.
Jose’s trial begins in late September 2013. He will be tried for assault on a federal officer. If convicted, he faces up to eight years in federal prison.
Jose’s case sheds light on the increasing transparency the public has created to protect themselves from overzealous prosecution by the federal government. If won, his case will signify a paradigm shift in crowd control and freedom of speech. The events of the last few years, particularly in Oakland, are evidence of the power of social media and a highly educated proletariat.
Nothing that happens in the world, particularly Oakland, can occur under the shield of government secrecy, from the shooting of Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART station to the crackdown on the Occupy Oakland camp, it is clear the public will continue to use technology to fight back.
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