A man was shot and killed Thursday just outside the Oakland encampment that anti-Wall Street protesters have occupied for the last month, but organizers said the attack was unrelated to their ongoing protest of U.S. financial institutions and that some of their own were the first ones to administer first aid.
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.
No suspects have been identified, said Jordan, who asked people public participating in the protest who may have taken photographs or video that captured the shooting to contact authorities.
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.
Drug and gang-related shootings are not uncommon in downtown Oakland, and city leaders have complained that the encampment has pulled law enforcement resources away from solving them. Thursday's shooting in the center 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.
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."
Before the shooting, protesters were planning to have a party Thursday night to commemorate the encampment's one-month anniversary with music, dancing, a slide show and donated cakes.
The planned celebration took a back seat after the man collapsed and screams rang out across the crowded plaza. 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.
John Lucas, 52, a recent nursing graduate from Alameda, 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 about 30 feet away. He said they found the victim on his back, bleeding from the nose and mouth. They opened his shirt to look for wounds but found none.
"He was not breathing and there was no heartbeat," he said. "We started CPR."
Lucas said he started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, using gauze pads to insulate himself from the man's blood, while others took turns administering chest compressions, switching every couple of minutes. He said they detected a weak heartbeat.
The crowd formed a line to keep people back from the wounded man and tussled briefly with a television cameraman who attempted to capture the chaotic scene on video.
"This was one hell of an experience," Lucas said. "Afterward, I felt like crying."
City and business leaders have escalated their calls in recent days for the camp to be disbanded, either voluntarily or by force.
Mayor Jean Quan on Wednesday asked members of the camp to show respect to the people of Oakland by peacefully leaving. That night, lights at the plaza went out, which the city said was due to a tripped circuit. Protesters have claimed the loss of light is part of a plan to force them out.
"This is what happens, if you don't have lights in the plaza, in an open area," Anderson said. "This tactic is getting people killed."
When Jordan arrived at Thursday's crime scene, people shouted, "Turn the lights on." The chief agreed the area needs to be lighted.