OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A man was shot and killed Thursday just outside the Oakland encampment that anti-Wall Street protesters have occupied for the last month, causing a scream-filled commotion in the City Hall plaza where the camp stands and turning a planned anniversary celebration into a somber, candlelit memorial.
With opinions about Occupy Oakland and its effect on the city having become more divided in recent days, supporters and opponents immediately reacted to the homicide — the city's 101st this year.
Camp organizers said the attack was unrelated to their activities, while city and business leaders, cited the death as proof that the camp itself either bred crime or drained law enforcement resources from other parts of the Oakland.
Mayor Jean Quan, who has been criticized by residents on both sides for issuing mixed signals about the local government's willingness to tolerate the camp, issued a statement Thursday providing a clear eviction notice.
"Tonight's incident underscores the reason why the encampment must end. The risks are too great," Quan said. "We need to return (police) resources to addressing violence throughout the city. It's time for the encampment to end. Camping is a tactic, not a solution."
For their part, protest leaders said the shooting involved outsiders and was only connected to their ongoing protest of U.S. financial institutions to the extent that poverty breeds violence.
"This one heinous immoral crime should not overshadow all of the good deeds, positive energy and the overall goals that the movement is attempting to establish," Khalid Shakur, 43, who has a tent in the encampment, said. "Murders happen on these city streets all of the time and the difference with a murder happening on a city street and at Occupy Oakland, you have a mass group of people who care about life and want peace."
Police Chief Howard Jordan said a preliminary investigation suggests the shooting resulted from a fight between two groups of men at or near the Occupy Oakland camp on a plaza in front of City Hall. During the altercation, one of the men pulled out a gun and fired several rounds into a crowd on the plaza's edge, Jordan said.
One of the bullets struck the victim, who was pronounced dead at a hospital, he said.
Investigators do not yet know if the men in the fight were associated with Occupy Oakland, but they are looking into reports that some protest participants tried to break up the altercation, Jordan said.
No suspects have been identified, said Jordan, who asked people participating in the protest who may have taken photographs or video that captured the shooting to contact authorities.
Thursday's shooting at the site of the debated camp comes a day after a group of Oakland city and business leaders held a news conference demanding the removal of the encampment, saying it has hurt downtown businesses and has continued to pose safety concerns.
Councilman Larry Reid said that even if the men involved in the slaying were not regular participants in Occupy Oakland, the large crowds and attention the protest has drawn also has invited weapons and brawls. The camp, which has about 180 tents, sits in the middle of the plaza and is ringed by a transit station and ground-floor shops.
"We did have a shooting (near the plaza) once before, a couple shootings around some nightclubs but not right here in front of City Hall because this is attracting a totally different element to our downtown area," Reid said. "This is a public space, and people have a right to enjoy it."
Shake Anderson, an Occupy Oakland organizer who has slept at the camp since it was erected exactly a month ago, said the man who was shot could not be associated with the protest because he did not recognize him. Just before the shooting, a group of strangers ran into the encampment as if they were looking for someone, Anderson said.
"The person on the ground was not part of the occupation. I can verify that," Anderson said. "This is a street incident. It happens all the time."
Outside the yellow police tape encircling the crime scene, located in front of a coffee shop where the windows were broken last week following a day of peaceful anti-Wall Street marches, protesters lit candles and opened a microphone for camp participants to talk about where the movement is headed.
"It's not a celebration anymore, but a period of reflection," said Leo Ritz-Barr, a member of Occupy Oakland's events committee.
Before the shooting, protesters were planning to have a party to commemorate the encampment's one-month anniversary with music, dancing, a slide show and donated cakes. The celebration was canceled after the man collapsed and screams rang out across the crowded plaza.
John Lucas, 52, was part of an Occupy Oakland medic team that tried to tend to the man until paramedics arrived. He said a fistfight involving several men preceded the gunfire.
"Several people went after one guy, and the group got larger, and they beat him and he ran," Lucas said. "There were six or seven shots. Everyone starts running ... and there was another shot."
Lucas, who described himself as a licensed vocational nurse who attended City College in San Francisco, said he and other medics rushed to the wounded man, who was on his back and bleeding from the nose and mouth.
"He was not breathing and there was no heartbeat," he said. "We started CPR."
Protesters complained that the plaza had been without lights and water since Wednesday night. Mayoral aide Sue Piper said the issues stemmed from a tripped circuit and a failed water pump workers had been unable to fix because they were furloughed Thursday. Protesters have claimed the loss of light is part of a plan to force them out.
When Jordan arrived at Thursday's crime scene, people shouted, "Turn the lights on!" The chief agreed the area needs to be lighted.