Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Oakland Police are confused?

The Oakland Police are confused.  

That is according to themselves, as represented by their own police officers association. 
In their open letter to the public they said many things.  Many of them had some serious assumptions including about how “past protests have turned into riots” but the worst assumption of all came in one single line:

Is it the City’s intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?

This is supposing that there is a skirmish line and that the police are on only one side of it.  Here we may be getting closer to the root of the problem.  Have they totally lost perspective on the fact that protesting is one of our basic rights and that the police are supposed to protect us doing it?  If they have lost sight of that, if they were ever not confused on this part of their job, then let’s point it out to them right now.  The Oakland Police are our highest paid public workers and the Oakland Police Department is our most expensive City Hall expense outside of Redevelopment.  We pay a lot, trust a lot more, license them to carry guns in public in our name and we should expect better.  

Oakland has been ridiculed on national television for attacking a campsite with a full on riot squad.  In our city where we have a weekly tailgate party at the Raider’s games that displays all the problems Occupy Oakland is accused of.  The Daily Show made some excellent jokes at our expense and many people stood in city hall and made it clear that all the problems shown in the Plaza were in the plaza before the protest, at any Raider’s game and are in the neighborhoods on any day.  The comparison with our football tailgaters is a just one.  We expect the police to deal with the people getting out of hand.  We expect them to protect all the others, no matter how bizarre they may be.  We expect the police to treat people as gently and respectfully as possible.  We expect them to expect the obvious and be proactive.  We do not allow them to violently overreact to fans who have only committed minor infractions and are not a danger to others.  As professional police officers we expect them to understand this fine line and make it work.  They should know the difference, see the difference and act accordingly.  That is their job.  They are supposed to protect us doing what is legal.  

The police officer’s union has some legitimate complaints with management.  We all should have some complaints with both the political management and the police management of these situations.  

Start with the mayor.
I am among the people who are amazed at what she allowed to happen.  If you are going to order the plaza cleared, well you should at least be here to lead that, supervise that and take responsibility for that.   I have a lot of respect for Ms. Quan, but this was a lack of leadership and very poor judgment.  She should know better about handling protests and she should know better about how our local police do things.  She does know better.  She should tell us why she did what she did.  It is about the only thing that will save her from a recall at this point.  

But do not forget the City Administrator. 
Her description to the special session of Council on Thursday Nov. 4th was full display of a CYA bureaucrat doing the CYA.  Like so many in our US public life, she gave us a college 5 part essay, poorly written, on how she had done everything the best that could be done and how it was all the protester’s fault.  She had a smug litany of excuses, the dog ate my lunch, the dog bit the journalist, there was nothing to be done but shoot the dog… never did we hear a word of regret or responsibly for the disastrous results of having ordered the police to disperse the camp by force.  

Missing, like a gaping broken window on Broadway, is the fact that they did not try to communicate WITH the protesters; they only wanted to dictate TO them.  At one point she sounded like a cynical lawyer stretching a point saying that City memos, were on the internet, which was good enough because so many of those young people are tech savvy.  At no point did they ever offer to dialog with the protestors really.  It was all about permits and compliance, nothing to do with earning some trust from the people in the square.  It was about her representative getting permission to speak and not about having the courage to stand out there and demand to be heard.  

That is what I did, and if I can do it, anybody could have done it.  

There were problems with the first camp.  Those problems were being addressed and addressed quickly.   They were also being played up and distorted in the press version of things.  That is the version that the city administrator has now adopted.   

If people like me, and I am nobody important, could demand to speak to the General Assembly and insist on dialog with the City and advocate non violence, why not the City officials?
That they were not welcome is a coward’s excuse and that they were not welcome after sending a riot squad against a campsite is their own damn fault.  

Thanks to her antics trust will be harder to earn for the next city administrator who will have to live down her legacy.  Ms. Quan should have taken her resignation the moment she stepped off the plane back from Washington. 

But why stop at the administrator’s office, there is the mayor’s staff to talk about.
At 5 PM the night before the morning raid on the campsite some chosen, invited, community leaders were called together to speak with Quan staffers.  These are the same staffers who never returned my calls and who did not so much as acknowledge the offer of Green Party folk to do whatever was necessary to prevent the violence that ending up taking place.  

Do you think they were talking with these community members to ask them to mediate, moderate, mitigate or anything like that?  NO, they were being TOLD what was going to happen and that was that.  The administration had made up its mind.  The city was going straight to police action.  Some demonstrators had burned one of their memos in effigy and they could not think of any other way to get over the communication impasse.  

In their limited way they really thought that they had tried everything and now they were just ready to offer some 3 rate homeless service and were calling the police to clear the place out.  Ms Quan should offer them new work challenges outside of City Hall.    

Middle management at City Hall needs a wider view of what it means to “try everything”.
The results of how they dealt with the encampment made this clear. 

And now for the Police Management.
Between the bad leadership at the Mayor’s office, and the officer throwing a stun grenade is the police brass.  To start with our Chief Jorden sang a solo in the Not-My-Fault chorus along with some props of his war trophies.  Absent was a lot of explaining to do.  The first thing I would like to know is why after 2 weeks of Occupy Oakland they had not done the groundwork of having some credibility with the protestors?  

Of all the things they could have done to clear the plaza of tents, a frontal assault was exactly the wrong one to choose.  Who came up with this plan?  What was the urgent hurry?  Why was nothing else tried?  How did we go from a poorly written memo from the administration (without a deadline in it) to a frontal assault?

But my biggest question is:  What could be more important to the Oakland Police right now than public support?  Even if the protesters did not cooperate, there were better ways to stop illegal camping or to get a protest to move to somewhere else.  None of those methods were even tried.  Instead we are millions of dollars in expenses down the road with our city’s reputation tarnished again and the Oakland Police’s relationship with the community even further damaged.  

As a person who has had the job of carrying a gun and having to do what others have decided needs to be done, I still have a lot of sympathy for the police, but also some serious concerns about the quality of police work in Oakland.  

This is the same police force that:
  • ·         Lost 4 of its own members to the same man and failed to take that suspect alive
  • ·         HAS used teargas with Raider’s fans
  • ·         Fired cork bullets at an anit-Iraq war protest
  • ·         Failed to advert violence and protect the peaceful part of the Oscar Grant protests. 
  • ·         Continues to be under court supervision stemming from the Rider’s case
If we had a police commission I would advocate some hearings on quality of their work. 
And I think police management needs to be reviewed on how they came to make these choices. 

We always knew that the police are going to beat a bunch of protesters in a fight. 
Why go out and prove it unless you only view the protest as a skirmish line.  

As the police union points out, this is not the first time we have had a protest like Occupy Oakland General Strike and it is not the first time some elements came with intent to throw bricks.  Everybody seemed to know it would happen.   

What we did not see was a police force ready to act in an intelligent, prepared way.  It felt more like the excuse that they were waiting for.  If City Council holds hearings on the police response, then they should ask some hard questions: 
  • 1.       Why they could not be more proactive to cut the violent protesters off quickly?
  • 2.       Why they did they not help the protesters who were trying to stop the violence?
  • 3.       Why did they resort to teargas and mass arrests again and basically attack both groups? 
We need to ask ourselves if we are not all across some kind of “skirmish line”.

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