OAKLAND, Calif. — A man was shot to death on Thursday near a downtown Oakland plaza where hundreds of anti-Wall Street activists have camped out for a month, stoking renewed calls by some city officials to evict the protesters.
A preliminary investigation into the gunfire suggests it resulted from a fight between two groups of men at or near the Occupy Oakland camp on a plaza in front of City Hall, police Chief Howard Jordan 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 added. It was the city's 101st homicide this year.Video: Man shot, killed near ‘Occupy Oakland’ site (on this page)
Recent unrest surrounding the Oakland encampment has helped rally supporters of Occupy Wall Street nationwide, a movement launched in New York in September to protest economic inequality and excesses of the financial system.
But spokesmen for the Occupy Oakland demonstrators were quick to deny that the shooting, which occurred at a public transit station at the edge of the plaza, had anything to do with the protest movement.
Jordan, later told reporters at an impromptu news conference that investigators were "still trying to put the pieces together," adding, "Obviously, for someone to lose a life, that's a big deal."
Street lights turned off
Protest organizers said the shooting was an example of gun violence that flares routinely in the city and accused municipal officials of adding to a sense of fear and insecurity by leaving street lights off around the plaza after dark over the past two nights.
John Lucas, 52, part of an Occupy Oakland medic team, 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."
"This was another case of violence in the streets of Oakland, and it's going to be blamed on the occupation," said Tim Simons, one of several protesters who speaks for the group.
The shooting comes at a time of tense relations between protesters who have set up a tent camp in the plaza and police who have already tried to forcibly remove them, efforts that have sparked confrontations.
"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, added.
'Not a solution'
Mayor Jean Quan has drawn withering criticism for her handling of previous attempts to shut down the encampment.
"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."
Police forcibly removed tents and drove protesters out of the plaza on Oct. 25, only for demonstrators to return later that day to reclaim the public square outside City Hall in a clash with police that left one former Marine in the group badly injured by a tear gas canister.Video: Protesters hold vigils for injured vet (on this page)
Police and protesters clashed again the following week after a day of largely peaceful citywide rallies and marches that forced a brief shutdown of the Port of Oakland.
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.
Drug overdoses, evictions
Meanwhile, hundreds of anti-Wall Street demonstrators were told to move their protest campsites in Portland, Oregon, by early Sunday morning.
City officials said they imposed the 12:01 a.m. Sunday deadline for Occupy Portland protesters to leave two downtown parks because sanitation and safety had deteriorated during six weeks of demonstrations.
"Crime, especially reported assaults, has increased in the area around the camps," Portland Mayor Sam Adams said at a news conference, joining the ranks of U.S. municipal leaders who have run out of patience with such encampments.
Adams, who also cited health and sanitation issues and "two very serious drug overdoses" as an impetus for his decision, said the Occupy movement in Oregon's largest city "has lost control of the camps it created."
He declined to discuss specific plans for removing the estimated 500 to 800 protesters, but said officials would be prepared for "any reasonable eventuality."PhotoBlog: Occupy Wall Street
A look nationwide:
Officials in Burlington, Vt., said on Thursday a 35-year-old man died after apparently shooting himself at a protest encampment in a downtown park in the city . Police said there was no reason to believe the public was at risk after the shooting, but later said they had banned camping at the site over safety concerns.
Protesters drowned out Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann during a foreign policy speech aboard the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier. The group of about 30 people accused Bachmann of "dividing Americans."
Police at the University of California, Berkeley, a hotbed of 1960s student activism, said they had released all but two of the 39 people arrested on Wednesday when police prevented a protest camp from taking hold at the campus.
Also on Thursday, protesters said they would peacefully "occupy" this year's Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
The Tournament of Roses Parade, first held on New Year's Day in 1890, is scheduled for January 2 and broadcast on several U.S. television networks and in dozens of countries around the world.
Republican Governor Bill Haslam will ask prosecutors to drop trespassing citations against anyone arrested last month in Occupy Nashville economic protests, his office said on Thursday.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.