The Occupy movement has officially overstayed its welcome. Any question about that was stomped out by the senseless rioting Saturday by Occupy Oakland activists who, by all appearances, have given up on being persuasive in favor of being destructive.
Police had to use tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse rock- and bottle-throwing protesters, some of whom had started tearing down the fences outside the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. Later, activists broke into City Hall and vandalized the lobby. The confrontations resulted in 409 arrests and roughly $3 million in damage to a city that's already struggling to plug a $28 million hole in its budget.
But what triggered a national backlash against the Occupy movement were photos and video recordings of the protesters burning an American flag at Oakland City Hall as people in the crowd cried "Burn it. Burn it." What was the point of that? Within hours, video of the riots had gone viral on social media websites. So had the criticisms.
Courts have validated flag burning as a form of free expression, and we see no reason to retreat from that finding. At the same time, not all speech that's protected is edifying. Some of it, such as stealing a flag from city hall and torching it, is worthy of condemnation,
This is a far cry from the nonviolent roots of a movement, which began on Wall Street as a means to raise awareness of the growing economic and social disparities in America.
After months of railing against Wall Street financiers for profiting off the "99 percent," Occupy Oakland demonstrators have merely given the public one more quasi-public institution to distrust and oppose. The high cost of all these repairs and overtime for police will need to come from some place, and odds are it won't come from social programs that assist the 1 percent.
Leaders in the national Occupy movement need to condemn what's happening in Oakland or risk being exposed, as with Occupy Oakland, as more a part of the problem than the solution.