OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — As community workers cleaned up the homeless encampment in Oakland’s Fitzgerald Park on Valentine’s Day, an altercation broke out between District 3 City Councilmember Carroll Fife and Vincent Williams III, the CEO of the Urban Compassion Project. The incident ended when Fife’s close friend, Tur-Ha Ak, pushed Williams to the ground, according to both parties. The aftermath of the alleged assault was caught on video, which you can watch using the video player above.
For Fife, the clean-up marked the end of a years-long quest to clean out the park, which had become riddled with trash, tents and violence. With help from newly-elected Mayor Sheng Thao, Fife got the resources necessary to clean up the park.
Williams told KRON4 he approached Fife and yelled at her, voicing his disapproval about how she was handling the clean-up.
“I told Carroll, ‘This is your fault because you have these advocates out here working for you and they’re lying to people,'” Williams said.
Fife said Williams accused her of paying advocates with the organization Love and Justice in the Streets to tell the unhoused members of the encampment not to accept housing. Fife and Ak both allege that Williams was threatening advocates who were helping to clean the site. According to Fife, Williams lunged at her, and she became concerned. She said after multiple warnings were issued, Ak stepped in.
“He punched me in my face. My glasses went flying off. He slammed me to the ground. Continued to punch me. At one point, he just grabbed my head and started smashing it into the concrete,” Williams said.
“Williams became verbally irate, screaming obscenities and again proceeded to step in my space. Williams abruptly directed his tirade toward Councilmember Fife, advancing toward her while yelling obscenities. I attempted to deescalate the situation, calmly requesting that Williams back away from Councilmember Fife. Williams proceeded forward. Having witnessed Williams’ threats of violence toward community advocates moments earlier and unaware of whether he had weapons or intended to act based on previous statements, I intervened,” Ak said.
“I am well within my right, as with every human being to be safe. We all deserve to be safe. And if someone is choosing to take that safety from you, then the law says you are well within your right to defend yourself,” Fife said.
The Oakland Police Department told KRON4 that officers were on the scene when an assault occurred. Ak was cited and released. Williams declined medical treatment, a report was filed and the incident will be investigated. Fife claims that Ak was not arrested because Williams instigated the encounter.
The incident was particularly distressing for Williams because of his health history, according to a statement posted to his Instagram account. KRON4 reported in November that Williams was shot on the Bay Bridge during an apparent act of road rage. According to the press release, he underwent a CT scan and MRI of his neck and spine after the altercation with Ak.
“The violence that occurred during the attack on Vincent, simply for exercising his First Amendment rights, is unacceptable and has no place in the city of Oakland,” the press release reads.
Cleaning up Fitzgerald Park
On Jan. 28, residents living near the park woke up to police sirens as OPD responded to a shooting at the park just before 6:30 a.m. Fife says that was the latest act of violence in the park.
She says she first attempted to clean out the park on Dec. 13, but her efforts were sidelined. After the shooting on Jan. 28, Fife posted a video to her Facebook saying she immediately got on the phone with Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao. From there, the efforts went smoothly.
“I was shocked at how quickly it went after I’d notified the mayor about it,” Fife said. View before and after photos of Fitzgerald Park below.
What stopped the clean-up from happening sooner? In a video posted to his Instagram after the altercation, Williams said Fife sent “advocates” out to the park, telling the Fitzgerald Park residents not to accept shelter. Both Fife and a member of the advocate group, Love and Justice in the Street, vehemently denied those claims.
“It’s very concerning and it’s the opposite of what we’re doing,” said Talya Husbands-Hankin with Love and Justice in the Street.
Eventually, the residents were removed from the encampment. They are now housed in a variety of places, including a city-run shelter and hotel rooms, Husbands-Hankin told KRON4.
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Two days after the incident at Fitzgerald Park, Fife tweeted the following, “Aggression and harassment masquerading as ‘free speech’ is a justification for violence. Know the difference.”
When asked about the tweet, she said it was in relation to threats that she has been receiving for years.
“I am saying that my opposition is using free speech as a justification of their harassment of me,” she said.
Fife says the incident at the park was the latest in a crusade against her since she took office, which included threats of violence and murder. She held a press conference the week before asking for help in dealing with voicemail messages and emails threatening to harm her.
“I’ve never seen a local elected official get literally threatened,” she said.
Fife later tweeted a thread elaborating on her original tweet. Among what she said was that people are “politically stoking hate that intentionally perpetrates violence.”