Antiwar Protest Turns Violent at Port of Oakland

Special to The Times

Police opened fire with nonlethal weapons on antiwar protesters and some longshoremen Monday morning outside the Port of Oakland while several demonstrators hurled rocks, steel bolts and concrete at officers in riot gear.

Police arrested 30 people for allegedly blocking strategic gates and failing to disperse. Several hundred demonstrators left peacefully, authorities said.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. April 9, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 09, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Pelosi’s war views -- An article in the California section Tuesday about protests in Oakland incorrectly stated that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voted to give President Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq. Pelosi voted against giving the president that authority.

The police barrage of beanbag bullets, wooden dowels and sting-ball grenades hit demonstrators in the backs of their legs and on arms, necks and faces as many were leaving the area. About a dozen suffered welts, cuts and bruises. Half a dozen longshoremen, there to work the morning shift, also were hurt by the shots. No police officers were injured.


Oakland Deputy Police Chief Patrick Haw and Mayor Jerry Brown defended the police action, but others said they believed it was excessive. Vice Mayor Nancy Nadel called for an investigation into the officers’ actions.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been the site of some of the biggest antiwar protests in the country. Demonstrators in the city have blocked downtown intersections and tried to shut down the Bay Bridge.

Demonstrators said Monday’s protest was the first in which police fired on them.

Haw, who was at the port demonstration when trouble broke out, insisted that protesters were given ample warning to disperse. Though many did move, he said, others put on masks and wouldn’t leave.

After some demonstrators began throwing concrete and other items at police, Haw said, “We couldn’t tolerate ... [the officers] being hit with weapons,” even if they were “improvised weapons.”

Haw said his officers were just protecting themselves and the community “from being assaulted.”


Steve Stallone, spokesman for the longshoremen’s union, said protesters did not provoke the police response. “It was a completely nonviolent demonstration,” Stallone said, though he acknowledged that after the police barrage of bullets, a few demonstrators tossed rocks at officers.

Wearing a T-shirt bearing the word “Anarchy,” Cyprus Gonzalez, a 19-year-old student, sustained a large, bloody welt on his back. “I was pretty sure it wasn’t a bullet like a real bullet,” he said later. “I didn’t think they would be firing on us like that. I didn’t think they’d be firing on us at all.”

Calling officers’ responses “reckless and stupid,” Oakland School Board member Dan Siegel, a lifelong veteran of demonstrations, said the police “were far [more] violent than they needed to be.”

Siegel’s law partner, City Councilwoman Jane Brunner, joined the demonstrators in front of the federal building in downtown Oakland. “It’s important that our police react to demonstrators calmly,” she said. “I think they overreacted.”

Defending his officers, Oakland Mayor Brown pointed out that the police “didn’t use pepper spray or batons. They were trying to act in a responsible way, but you can’t let people just decide to take over the Port of Oakland and create their own occupation.”

A much larger demonstration Saturday in downtown Oakland had been peaceful, the mayor said. But Brown called Monday’s event “a takeover. Their object,” he said, “was to break the law.”

The protest began at dawn Monday morning, at several entryways to American Presidents Line and Stevedoring Services of America. Protesters blocked trucks and employees from entering. Some lay down on the wide avenue, halting traffic. They selected APL because the demonstrators contend that it ships munitions to Iraq.

Under an agreement with the Department of Transportation Maritime Security Program, APL ships may be pressed into service during wartime. APL manager of corporate communications-Americas, Jerry Drelling, said his company would not comment on the contents of its cargo.

SSA, the other company that was picketed, was chosen because protesters allege that it has received a $4.8 million contract to manage the port of Umm al Qasr in southern Iraq.

Demonstrations also took place in other Bay Area cities Monday. A dozen protesters were arrested at Concord Naval Weapons Station.

Eighteen were arrested for blocking the entrance into the federal building in San Francisco. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) were both criticized for their vote giving President Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq. In Sacramento, nine demonstrators were arrested for blocking the federal building.


Associated Press contributed to this report.