The Cutline

Questions about Oakland violence occupy White House press briefing

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

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Left: White House press secretary Jay Carney; right: an Occupy Oakland protester. (AP)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held his daily briefing with reporters on Thursday, the first since returning from President Obama's swing through California and Colorado. Reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One were criticized on Wednesday for not asking Carney about the violence that erupted during the Occupy Oakland protests earlier in the week, even though the president and the White House press corps made a stop in the Bay area.

On Thursday, however, the press did raise questions about the Oakland standoff between protestors and police. From the White House Press Office transcript:

Q: Has the President seen the footage from Oakland this week of violence between protesters and the police?  And is there a concern in the White House or from the President that these Occupy protests become -- lead to violence in some way in the coming months?

MR. CARNEY: I don't know that he's seen that specific footage.  He certainly is aware of the news in general and there are TVs on around here and when we travel.

We, as the President has said, understand the frustrations that have led to these demonstrations.  There's a lot of concern out there about our sluggish economy, the need for it to grow faster, the fact that our unemployment rate is much too high.

There is also a lot of concern about the perception that Wall Street, writ large here, acted in a way that helped precipitate the worst financial crisis and worst economic crisis that we've seen since the Great Depression, and now, after we have passed into law and signed into law reforms that would both protect American consumers, in their dealings with financial institutions, and would ensure that the kinds of reckless actions that were taken could not be taken again, we see a lot of efforts in Congress from Republicans as well as by lobbyists for Wall Street to try to undo those reforms; to stop, for example, the confirmation of our nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board -- our consumer watchdog.

As to the violence, we obviously believe and insist that everyone behave in a lawful manner, even as they're expressing, justifiably, their frustrations.

Q: Jay, sort of to follow on that, obviously the most graphic images we've seen have come from Oakland, but there's a lot of cities where leaders are becoming frustrated with the movements -- and not because of violence, but because of sort of the persistent nature of it and how it sort of disrupts I guess business and that kind of thing. There's a lot of talk of getting rid of -- pardon me, there's a lot of talk of sort of cracking down, arrests, that kind of thing.  Does the President think that's appropriate, or does he see that as putting a limit on expression?

MR. CARNEY: I haven't had that discussion with the President.  I think, again, I would just go back to what I said to Michael.  We understand the frustrations that are being expressed, specifically with regard to the need to make sure that Main Street and Wall Street operate by the same set of rules, and the general frustration with the need for jobs and economic growth that creates opportunity for middle-class Americans.  And certainly we have a long and noble tradition of free expression and free speech in this country.

We also -- it's also important that laws are upheld and obeyed.  But that's a broad view.  I haven't had a discussion about specific cities or instances with the President.

Q: But aside from lawlessness, just assembling and obviously in the sheer numbers that we're seeing, it certainly gets --

MR. CARNEY: Again, without getting into specific decisions by municipalities, city councils, mayors, I would simply say that there is a long and noble tradition in the United States of free expression and free speech.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump told CNN's Piers Morgan that he supports Occupy Wall Street, however vaguely.

"I sort of think it's cool," Trump said. "There's something I like about it."

But the "Miss USA" pageant host also used the oft-repeated line that some of the protesters "are down there for dating purposes."

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