A protest that shut down the Port of Oakland to show the broadening reach of the Occupy Wall Street movement ended in violence when police in riot gear arrested dozens of protesters overnight who broke into a vacant building, shattered downtown windows, sprayed graffiti and set blazes along the way.
At least four protesters were hospitalized Thursday with various injuries, including one needing stitches after fighting with an officer, police said. Several officers were also injured but didn't need hospitalization.
"We go from having a peaceful movement to now just chaos," protester Monique Agnew, 40, said early Thursday.
Protesters also threw concrete chunks, metal pipes, lit roman candles and molotov cocktails, police said.
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The far-flung movement of protesters challenging the world's economic systems and distribution of wealth has gained momentum in recent weeks, capturing the world's attention by shutting down one of the nation's busiest shipping ports toward the end of a daylong "general strike" that prompted solidarity rallies across the U.S.
Several thousands of people converged on the Port of Oakland, the U.S.'s fifth-busiest harbour, in a nearly five-hour protest Wednesday, swarming the area and blocking exits and streets with illegally parked vehicles and hastily erected, chain-link fences afterward.
The Port of Oakland reopened after Wall Street protesters removed a blockade. Port officials say workers are returning to their jobs and operations have partially resumed.
Supporters in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and elsewhere staged smaller-scale demonstrations. Each group said its protest was a show of support for the Oakland movement, which became a rallying point when an Iraq War veteran was seriously injured in a clash with police last week.
The larger Occupy movement has yet to coalesce into an organized association and until the port shut down had largely been limited scattershot marches, rallies and tent encampments since it began in September.
Organizers in Oakland viewed the strike and port shutdown as a significant victory. Police said that about 7,000 people participated in demonstrations throughout the day that were peaceful except for a few incidents of vandalism at local banks and businesses.
Boots Riley, a protest organizer, touted the day as a success, saying "we put together an ideological principle that the mainstream media wouldn't talk about two months ago."
His comments came before a group of protesters broke into the former Travelers Aid building in order to, as some shouting protesters put it, "reclaim the building for the people."
Riley, whose anti-capitalist views are well documented, considered the port shutdown particularly significant for organizers who targeted it in an effort to stop the "flow of capital."
The port sends goods primarily to Asia, including wine as well as rice, fruits and nuts, and handles imported electronics, apparel and manufacturing equipment, mostly from Asia, as well as cars and parts from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.
An accounting of the financial toll from the shutdown was not immediately available.
The potential for the chaos that ultimately erupted was not something Riley wanted to even consider.
"If they do that after all this ..." said Riley pausing cautiously, then adding, "They're smarter than that."
But the peace that abided throughout a sunny warm autumn Wednesday, as protesters hung a large black banner downtown that read: "DEATH TO CAPITALISM," did not last as a cool midnight approached.
Occupy protesters voicing anger over a budget trim that forced the closure of a homeless aid program converged on the empty building where it had been housed just outside of downtown.
They blocked off a street with wood, metal Dumpsters and other large trash bins, sparking bonfires that leapt as high as 15 feet in the air.
City officials later released a statement describing the spasm of unrest.
"Oakland Police responded to a late night call that protesters had broken into and occupied a downtown building and set several simultaneous fires," the statement read. "The protesters began hurling rocks, explosives, bottles, and flaming objects at responding officers."
Several businesses were heavily vandalized. Dozens of protesters wielding shields were surrounded and arrested.
Protesters ran from several rounds of tear gas and bright flashes and deafening pops that some thought were caused by "flash bang" grenades. Fire crews arrived and suppressed the protesters' flames.
Protesters and police faced off in an uneasy standoff until the wee hours of the morning.