Jeffrey Schaub of KGO Radio (810 AM) was stuck in the middle of the Occupy Oakland protest Tuesday night and got sprayed with tear gas. The Novato resident shares his account below. Check out this audio report that aired on KGO. For ongoing coverage of the Occupy protests, bookmark www.kgoam810.com.
The afternoon started peacefully with a rally on the steps of the Oakland public library. Protesters using megaphones were deploring the arrest earlier that day of some 90 or so campers at City Hall.
It wasn't the usual crowd of twenty-something kids. People had come from throughout Oakland ... couples in their 30s and 40s, grandparents who experienced the protests of the 1960s. Then they marched ... several thousand by my estimate. They played drums and other musical instruments. It was this great shared experience.
But it got ugly near the Alameda County jail. The marchers wanted to go there where their comrades were jailed. There were seven or so police officers in riot gear who tried to disperse the crowd. They ended up surrounded. The protesters were throwing paint and water bottles at them — even backpacks. There was pushing and shoving. It was very volatile.
But the group backed off and the march continued to Frank Ogawa Plaza, where the encampment had been. Barricades were lined by police and sheriffs in full riot gear, gas masks and weapons. More shouting. People threw bottles and paint.
Then, at about 7:40 p.m., the police lobbed several tear gas grenades into the packed crowd (I estimate perhaps 1,000 people) and everybody ran.
I was in the middle of it and was gassed myself. There was a terrible burning in my eyes and the back of my throat — and tears, of course. I dialed the newsroom and said we'd better get on the air again.
I did my best to report the situation while I fought back the effects of the tear gas. People all around me were sick; some were throwing up. There were a couple of injured marchers on the ground. People were screaming for medical help. There was none.
Here's the deal: The vast majority of the marchers were peaceful and very well intentioned. They are upset at the state of our economy. They are worried about our future. They are dismayed by the gridlock in Washington. But there was a minority element of the crowd that provoked the police almost relentlessly. This is why they fired off what was eventually several rounds of tear gas on five separate occasions.
But the crowd kept coming back. Again I was overcome by tear gas.
Finally the majority of the marchers headed home. I think the tear gas and the fear of mass arrest spooked them.
It was a dramatic experience. For a reporter, it was exciting. Where it leads I cannot say. The protest leaders told me they will return to the Plaza at 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). What will happen? More confrontation? More bottles and paint and M-80s? More tear gas?