Months ago, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, in collusion with Mayor Jean Quan’s office and the direction of Deanna Santana, began a series of strategies designed to silence free speech—that is, from their perspective, the wrong kinds of speech directed at powerful local actors. As a recent dump of emails show, Quan was quite keen to explore ways of co-opting the Occupy Oakland movement when she thought the message was directed impotently at far away targets in Washington and Wall Street, even going as far as commissioning a series of “initiatives” that would make her seem aligned with the movement’s goals, and empowering operatives to co-opt the movement’s message [p. 1058]. When the Mayor and City Hall discovered that they would not be able to ride the Occupy Oakland train to cynical political gain, an ugly series of tactics were arrayed to chill free speech and intimidate protesters. These culminated in violent raids that nearly took the lives of two activists. These are well-known, but the violence and repression from police and city designed to suppress the Occupy Oakland movement did not stop there.
The new strategy began with mass arrests for what would have been considered very typical kinds of political assembly months ago.
Forty or more people Dozens were arrested just before a rally for Egyptian women’s rights in late December at the plaza, though protesters had even demonstrated a willingness to comply with police edicts of the day. The charges—inciting a riot, the ever-offensive lynching, assault and battery of police officers—were all inflammatory, all baseless. The day of arrests begins with the arrest of two Occupy Oakland activists for sitting under a tree on a city street and ends with a series of assaults and arbitrary targeting by police of random protesters.
Quan, Santana, OPD and the District Attorney had only just begun. The arrests spawned a campaign based on circular logic and cynical abuse of the law and authority. First, the police fashioned a hit list based solely on the names and faces of people present during the initial series of arrests. Many of those people were subsequently arrested in another raid on the plaza a week or so later. Those arrests led to “stay away” orders, which prevent Occupy Oakland activists from being within a poorly defined 300-yard area around the plaza. Of course, as I’ve noted countless times now, that 300-yard area includes the city council chambers, various city agencies, the federal building and even the offices of attorneys representing the defendants against their charges and the stay aways.
Armed with their photocopied “yearbook” of activists that had come under scrutiny simply for being involved in protests in front of city hall, police then began to harass those listed in the book, taking them in for warrants imagined, real and fabricated. Arrests for violation of stay aways followed, including one activist who was arrested after he had been told in court on the very same day that he had no stay away at all, and another activist arrested for driving down 14th street.
Following the arrests of January 28th actions to take over the abandoned and criminally empty megalith Kaiser Auditorium, more stay aways were added; this time 11 activists were chosen seemingly at random to serve as examples for the kind of tactical repression that the city would now employ. This strategy would not be based on enforcement of arbitrarily defined free speech stifling ordinances like obstruction or resisting an officer from the usual stable of city repression. Rather, the justice system would be perverted into a shackle to restrain free speech before the fact, through a campaign based on abuse of the local justice system, run by Quan’s director of police violence, Deanna Santana–and her apparent underlings, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Howard Jordan.
These actions have been supported by a propaganda campaign that, even for city officials, seems particularly lacking ethics, and includes such acts as issuing a false statement claiming that a protester was carrying a quarter stick of dynamite–a charge later dropped, obviously, for lack of same. In the same vein, after the stay-aways of January 28th, the city issued a mendacious press release full of prejudicial and baseless accusations–titled “Judge Issues Stay Away Order for Violent Protesters“–a document designed to presume guilt, rather than innocence, and to inflate and blatantly lie about the charges, with violent acts implied outright. District Attorney O’Malley followed this up with a remarkable op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle stuffed with so many lies and incredibly prejudicial statements regarding as yet untried cases, that many would be forgiven for assuming she has no background in law whatsoever.
More stay aways have been issued in the meantime to Occupy Oakland protesters–at least 20 at current toll–and the tactic has become so effective that it is even now used for demonstrations that have no connection to Occupy Oakland whatsoever. East Bay Solidarity Network activists arrested in a recent action to disrupt the auction of a foreclosed home—again for baseless charges meant to stifle discomfiting free speech—received stay aways from the courthouse as a condition of their release.
Even those who dismiss Occupy Oakland, or feel that the city should be more pro-active against such demonstrators should be shocked at the latter–the city has found a new hammer with which to suppress any political action it dislikes by criminalizing it. In an even more alarming turn, activists involved in a series of bank protests last week have now been slapped with criminal charges, and, most shockingly, a serious hate crime charge. True to form, the police have issued a repugnant and manipulative press release, in which words such as “alleged” never appear. This is even more egregious when one considers that the role of the police and county level justice system is to preserve the rights of the defendant—their right to presumption of innocence, to fair trial free from prejudicial actions from the prosecutor’s office. The police and city now turn around such documents with record speed and hand them to compliant local media which do little more than present them in full as news the next morning.
All of this occurs in an environment steeped in violence, corruption and ineptitude; the city government unravels from lack of oversight and an addiction to state funds over good management as city jobs and services disappear; the District Attorney’s office has apparently abdicated its role in investigating violent abuse by police officers; the OPD has ridden a decade of violence, murder and repression to the precipice of federal receivership at an alarming cost of hundreds of millions for Oakland residents. When we ask who the enemies of the 99% are, there are voices that seem to rise above the heinous cacophony every time—the city government, District Attorney’s office and the Oakland Police Department.
As Noam Chomsky once wrote, nature rarely gives us a perfect parallel to test our political hypothesis. But sometimes, it gets pretty close. In a recent hate crime in Connecticut, involving, ironically as suspect, a 1% banker working for Morgan Stanley, who allegedly boasted of his ability to assault at will because he paid “10,000 dollars a year in taxes” no press release appears: not on Darien Police Dept’s website, the town mentioned in the article; not in the Connecticut State Police website; not in the NYPD website. The press release in Oakland, with attendant inflammatory charges, is an obvious political act; the lack of one in the East involving a powerful individual, likewise.
I also wanted to note that one of the defendants in the “hate crime” arrest has an exorbitant bail set at $125,00, which is just absurd and infuriating.
The Occupy Oaklander known as Cincinatti has had his bail raised to one million dollars. Disgusting madness.