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Police union slams Oakland mayor over handling of Occupy protests, planned general strike
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) ' The Oakland police union on Tuesday slammed the city's mayor for her stance on the city's Occupy Wall Street protests, further testing the embattled leader's administration a day before demonstrators planned a general strike.
The Oakland Police Officer's Association sent a letter to Mayor Jean Quan questioning why the city plans to beef up its police presence at strike-related events while giving other city workers leeway to participate.
"Is it the City's intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?" the letter said.
City offices are to remain open Wednesday. Quan's office urged businesses not to close. Protesters are planning several large gatherings in downtown Oakland throughout the day, culminating with a march to the Port of Oakland in early evening.
Protesters say they are heading to the port ' one of the country's largest ' to block "the flow of capital."
In a memo Friday, City Administrator Deanna Santana said workers can use vacation or other paid time off to participate in the strike.
Quan said in a statement Tuesday that she hoped Wednesday's strike would be peaceful and that she was working with interim Police Chief Howard Jordan to ensure that the protesters issues are "front and center."
"The pro-99 percent activists ' whose cause I support ' will have the freedom to get their message across without the conflict that marred last week's events," Quan said. "Although getting the balance right is never an easy task, in Oakland we are committed to honoring free speech and protecting public safety."
Police are upset that they were asked to clear the protesters' encampment a week ago, only to have the mayor let the camp resume a day later. The raid last Tuesday, along with the tear gas-clouded standoff with marchers that night and other law enforcement actions related to the protest, cost Oakland $1 million, said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland police union.
Arotzarena said that the officers, who also view themselves as part of the "99%," are now confused about Quan's stance heading into Wednesday's strike.
"What was last Tuesday all about? The mayor is painting us as the bad guys in all of this," he told The Associated Press. "We get one order one day and then she flip-flops the next day. We're going to be seen as the establishment, and it's not fair to the police, it's not fair to anyone.
"We're set to fail on this."
The mayor, in office for less than a year, has struggled to formulate a coherent response to the Occupy encampment that has sat for three weeks on the plaza in front of Oakland City Hall. It was interrupted by the raid.
A self-described civil rights activist with roots in the San Francisco Bay area's progressive movements stretching back to UC Berkeley's protest scene in the 1960s, Quan has said she and the city support the demonstrators.
But after a little more than a week into the protest, the city asked demonstrators to break up the encampment, claiming sanitation and safety problems had reached unacceptable levels. Protesters ignored an official eviction notice. Police then broke up the camp.
Since then, Quan has acquiesced to the camp's return, although the city is still officially requesting that protesters leave between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Protesters heckled and booed Quan when she tried to make a statement to the group last week, sending her retreating into City Hall.
Police presence around the protesters has diminished since the initial crackdown last week, which included the use of tear gas and beanbag rounds. Prominent liberals have since called for her resignation.
As indicated by Tuesday's letter, her support among police officers has diminished even more than it had following the resignation of popular former Chief Anthony Batts in early October.
"It was sort of remarkable that she was able to alienate both sides," said University of San Francisco political scientist Corey Cook of Quan's relationship with protesters and police. "She has no friends at this point."