The Occupy Oakland encampment, which began on Oct. 10 and grew into a tent city with 300 resident protesters, was quickly and relatively peacefully dismantled by police in the predawn hours on Tuesday.
There were a few dozen arrests and anti-police chanting, but a force of at least 200 police had little difficulty in tearing down the camp in front of Oakland City Hall along with a smaller camp near Lake Merritt. It took less than 30 minutes to clear away the tents and campers in raids that went smoothly, according to police.
The need to raze the camps had been obvious for days. Oakland officials reported rats in the camp, fights, sexual harassment, drug use and some violence against the media.
The protesters were given adequate and explicit warning that the camps were illegal and needed to be dismantled and plenty of time to comply with orders to end the encampment.
There is no way the city could have allowed the camps to endure and expand without creating an increasing threat to public health and safety.
Mayor Jean Quan was correct in concluding that "neither the demonstrators nor the city could maintain safe or sanitary conditions, or control the ongoing vandalism."
Quan also thanked the police, fire, public works and other city employees who worked over the last week to peacefully close the encampment, and the majority of the protesters who peacefully complied with city officials.
The swift removal of what was becoming a volatile public health menace and potential site of violence is good news for both the city of Oakland and for the protest movement.
Had there been a confrontation between the police and protesters that erupted into violence, that would have been the focus of media attention, overshadowing the message of the Occupy Oakland demonstrators.
The protest against widespread unemployment and corporate greed was being diluted and obscured by those demonstrating for a host of other causes such as support for state prison inmates on hunger strikes, housing rights, fair wages and against social oppression.
For a protest movement to gain traction, it needs to have a clear focus and to garner the support of a significant portion of the public. If what the people perceive is a band of disruptive, violent, unfocused demonstrators, it is likely that public opinion would turn against the movement.
The dismantling of the camps still leaves room for the Occupy Oakland demonstrators to deliver their message. Quan said the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland will remain open as a free-speech gathering place "for peaceful protest" from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
It serves no useful purpose for protesters to camp out overnight nor should Oakland or any other city allow a potential public menace to exist. We are thankful that Oakland did the right thing in an efficient manner that avoided violence but did not trample on anyone's rights of free speech or assembly.