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When Repression is Not Enough: The Policing and Social Control of Occupy Oakland


Occupy Oakland was best known for its radical politics, disruptiveness, militancy and confrontations with police from the fall of 2011 until early 2012. As an active participant I experiences police repression and also witnessed the collapse of social control - most dramatically with the November 2, 2011 General Strike - that shut down the Port of Oakland and much of downtown and stemmed largely from police aggression and misconduct the previous week. After briefly establishing how social control broke down in Oakland, California in the fall of 2011, in Chapter 1, I trace the various techniques of policing and social control that demobilized the movement in the remainder of the dissertation. I examine the legal, political, and socio-cultural contexts that shaped the movement and its policing, examining the role of legitimacy and force in evaluating the forms of social control that help determine the effectiveness of specific police practices.

The dissertation draws mainly from hundreds of hours of participant observation and various primary documents (declassified local and federal police documents and reports, legal filings, public police planning documents, mainstream news coverage, and city press releases). Chapter 2 lays out much of the theoretical contribution of the dissertation, focusing primarily on the two major literatures on protest policing. Drawing from my research on Occupy Oakland, I argue that the two main methods of modern protest policing in the Global North, defined by either police-protester cooperation or preemptive police aggression, are not only related (in contrast to much of the existing literature), they are mutually constituted.

The raid on Occupy Oakland's second encampment in mid-November 2011 was one of many raids across the country. In Chapter 2, I take a wider lens to examine the policing of the national movement in this specific moment and the role of federal and non-governmental agencies in coordinating encampment raids in eighteen cities across the U.S. in a two-week period. I specifically focus on the use of health and security discourses that aided in the depoliticization of policing in this moment.

I examine the role of permits, the law, and police force in Chapter 4, utilizing a genealogical approach to understanding the law and police tactics in Oakland. A defining characteristic of Occupy Oakland was its rejection of negotiation with the city and police, including seeking protest permits. A permit was nevertheless taken out for after the second camp eviction in Oscar Grant Plaza. I illustrate how the police and city administrators use civil law as a mechanism to profile specific communities and control geographic space, comparing the laws and policing practices associated with gang injunctions and the permit in Oakland.

Chapter 5 examines the political discourses of movement criminalization which preceded and followed Occupy Oakland's January 28, 2012 effort occupy the vacant Kaiser Convention Center. Illustrating the overall arch of the movement and the various efforts to control it, this chapter illustrates how the same set of police tactics that created great public support for the movement and condemnation of the police four months earlier, had a very different meaning and impact on protest (de)mobilization in late-January 2012. I argue that the policing and political delegitimation of the movement in this moment marked a clear turning point towards the movement's eventual collapse. I conclude that we must seek a more holistic approach to understanding the policing of protest that examines but goes beyond police tactics and strategies to the political, legal and socio-cultural contexts in which they are embedded. I argue that ultimately it is these factors of perceived legitimacy, public support, and active solidarity and participation that determine the effect of various forms of policing, and either foster social change or reinforce the existing social order.

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