SAN FRANCISCO – Anti-Wall Street protesters in Oakland rejected a call by the California city's police union Friday for them to leave their encampment, creating the potential for a showdown.
The police request came one day after a man was shot to death near their protest site. But Occupy Oakland demonstrators said the shooting, which took place at a public transit station at the edge of Frank Ogawa Plaza Thursday, had nothing to do with their movement.
The Oakland Police Officers Association, in an open letter to the protesters, said that police sympathized with their movement but that the city was in a "state of emergency."
"You have sent the world a strong message; now it is time to go home. Your leaving today, peacefully, of your own free will, on the 30th day, will send a message to Oakland that you care about our citizens and respect our city," the union said.
"With last night's homicide, in broad daylight, in the middle of rush hour, Frank Ogawa Plaza is no longer safe," the union said. "Please leave peacefully, with your heads held high, so we can get police officers back to work fighting crime in Oakland neighborhoods."
Protest organizers said the shooting was an example of gun violence that flares routinely in Oakland and accused officials of intentionally leaving street lights off around the plaza after dark over the past two nights.
The protesters have set up a tent camp in the public square outside City Hall and do not plan on dismantling it, organizer Cat Brooks said. "People were being murdered long before the Occupy Oakland encampment happened," Brooks said. "If police say that's why they can't do their job, that's laughable."
Oakland police issued a brief statement saying only that officers responding to a report of a shooting adjacent to the plaza "found a victim suffering from a gunshot wound."
The Occupy movement that began in New York has sprouted protests in many cities against economic inequality and what activists call Wall Street greed and government influence.
Businesses in downtown Oakland have been increasing pressure on the city's leaders to clear the Occupy camp, which they say is responsible for driving away customers.
"I have been very, very vocal about the fact that we cannot allow this to continue, because lives and property losses are what's at stake," City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente told KGO-TV. "We have to end this occupation."
Police have previously tried to remove the protesters.
Police forcibly removed tents and drove protesters out of the plaza on Oct. 25. Protesters returned later that day to reclaim the plaza in a clash with police that left a former U.S. Marine in the group badly injured from a tear gas canister.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman, Noel Randewich, Dan Whitcomb, Mary Slosson, and Jim Christie; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Bohan and Will Dunham)