Salon's Joan Walsh has been trying to be analytical and fair, though it's also clear that she's worried about backlash from Sarah Palin's Real Americans. She has what seems like a solid report in On the eve of destruction 11/14/2011.
Both reports talk about the discussion over tactics, including the use of violence against property.
Jonathan Simon at his Governing Through Crime blog, Governing the Occupy Movement through Crime 11/15/2011 makes an important point about how a shooting incident was used by Oakland officials as a main justification for clearing the primary Occupy Oakland encampment downtown. Although those involved in the shooting were hanging around the encampment and may have been staying there, it's not clear whether they were actively involved in the protest. Simon writes:
In Oakland this played out in almost comic precision. Hemmoraging legitimacy after first clearing the plaza in a violent police sweep and then letting the Occupy encampment be reestablished Mayor Jean Quan seemed paralyzed with indecision about what to do about the camp until a murder on the periphery of the encampment last week gave her a crime cover. Having supported the goals of the occupation and accepted encampment as a protest tactic the Mayor now found an imperative requiring the preventive clearing of the site (read the full story in the SFChron here):
"The encampment became a place where we had repeated violence and, this week, a murder. We had to bring the camp to an end before more people were hurt."
I'll add here that I went down to the Occupy Oakland site on Saturday morning of Nov. 5. Downtown Oakland, like most big city downtowns, is a mixture of people on a normal day. There are a lot of office workers and medical people in the area. There's a large Kaiser Permanente facility there and a lot of offices, restaurants and shops in the vicinity of City Hall, where Occupy Oakland camped. There are some buildings that have been recently built or renovated and others that are more run-down. There are also a fair amount of homeless or transients in the area. On a normal day, it's not a particularly unsafe place to be, though in any city you have to always be aware of the surroundings, especially after dark.
When I walked around the Occupy Oakland encampment, it was midmorning, and a lot of people seemed to be waking up and getting something for breakfast and starting the day. There was a spirited protest mini-rally at a Wells Fargo bank branch a block or so away. There were a few people who I guessed may have been homeless or beggars or both hanging around the camp, which didn't surprise me, but not a lot. It wasn't like a camping site at a state park. But it didn't strike me as especially grungy.
Digby tweeted on Tuesday, "Many readers like posts that focus on defecation of #OWS protesters 2 exclusion of all else/#bizarrerightwingfetish". When I was at the Occupy Oakland camp, there seemed to be plenty of Porta-Potties available. And I didn't see or smell nasty stuff. Sorry to disappoint FOX News fans.
My general impression of downtown Oakland is consistent with what Simon observes here:
While the details of the murder investigation are unknown to me, there is little reason to believe from what we know thus far that the encampment created a context that made such a killing more likely. Far from it. As media attention to the encampment has disclosed to many casual observers, Oakland has loads of homeless men, many of them battling symptoms of mental illness, life long drug abuse, and the soul destroying impact of mass incarceration. The city also has lots of young men punished and pushed out of schools and toward jail (read Victor Rios' superb book Punished for more on that) whose search for dignity takes them into deadly games of gang competition and related honor violence. These troubled populations, frequently churned by law enforcement, prison, and parole, has been a source of crime and insecurity in Oakland for decades; Occupy Oakland didn't bring it there, and based on published reports did not make it worst.
Joan Walsh's article gives a good sense, I think, of how a disparate protest movement would inevitably encounter problems with homeless people and drug dealers and various marginal urban dwellers, especially in a setting like downtown Oakland. The occupying of this Occupy movement doesn't seem likely to turn into anything like the squatter movement in Germany in the 1970s. So there would be some kind of natural limit on this phase of it, even in the absence of police misconduct.
But the Occupy movement became a genuinely "democratic moment". It changed the national political dialogue on the depression and exposed some rotting and rotten parts of our political system in an important way.