It’s been quite a week for the alternately repressive and inept institutions of the City of Oakland. Last Tuesday, City Council members heard the emotional testimony of the Blueford family, whose son Alan, an eighteen year old senior about to graduate from Skyline High School, was shot by a still undisclosed Oakland police officer. The Bluefords testified to the disgustingly rude and poor treatment at the hands of the OPD as they sought answers in the death of their son, who had been shot just hours earlier. Their testimony was highlighted some moments later by that of Angeleter Pringle, whose 22 year old son was murdered in a car-jacking last October; an apathetic investigation by OPD found only the driver of the car, an accomplice, and stopped short of finding the murderers. Pringle’s testimony, in which she offered to pay for forensic testing herself in order to find justice for her son, on the heels of that of the Blueford family’s, was a stark reminder of the twin poles of police repression of–and apathy toward–poor and disenfranchised communities in Oakland.
The City Council remained non-plussed. Although police chief Howard Jordan is a regular attendee of these city council meetings, he was mysteriously absent; council members who call on his senior staff on a regular basis when it is time to throw more money at the police department, seemed unable to conjure any of them. Then, rather than answer to these grieving families or conjoin a commission or panel on the poor performance of the only police department in the US facing federal receivership, Council members later dismissed one of the most tireless fighters against disenfranchisement and repression of poor and of color communities, Michael Siegel, from Oakland’s civil service commission.
Libby Schaaf, the creator of the motion to kick Siegel off the commission, which had been literally resurrected by Siegel into a body of legitimate oversight of city-owned institutions like the Port of Oakland, demurred when it came time to give reasons for her vendetta. The task fell to the far more honest Pat Kernighan to hint at answers. After proudly proclaiming that such appointments are solely political, Kernighan went on to imply that Siegel was dismissed for his work fighting unconstitutional anti-gang injunctions and for his advocacy of the Occupy movement.
The very next day, the city’s toothless CPRB held an open meeting on its investigation of police abuses on Occupy Oakland; the main speaker was Police Chief Howard Jordan. He was paired with a speaker chosen at the last minute by the board, seemingly to direct people’s attention away from the fact that the board serves as an apparatus for and at the pleasure of the OPD. The meeting was poorly advertised, and held in an East Oakland church in which the pastor scolded those attending that certain issues and questions would not be looked on favorably in a house of god. Despite the fact that the city had spent over a hundred thousand dollars on a for-profit consultant to review the violence by OPD against protesters, rather than empower its own citizen’s review board, Jordan calmly explained to the assembled board-members and attendees that the Frazier report was not available to the public.
City Attorney Barbara Parker’s Law and Order Re-election Campaign
Such a week’s worth of heavy lifting would be enough for any busy consortium of pro-elite, anti-poor institutions hard at work proclaiming the rights and power of the city to do whatever it likes to its most powerless. But they weren’t done yet. City Attorney Barbara Parker’s proposal for an ordinance banning plastic garbage cans, tripods, water bottles, and indeed, literally any object of rectangular shape that can fit into the palm of a hand, was up for review on the very next Tuesday, May 22nd. Again, the timing was unusual, just one day after the DA had finally dropped the charges on the so-called “Ice Cream 3”—three activists who had been, in one of the most remarkably unprincipled travesties of justice by the Alameda County DA, charged with hate crimes for a minor verbal altercation in Piedmont during a non-violent bank action. It was no small irony that the night’s agenda also featured one social service non-profit organization after another complaining of their under-funding, and the cutting of services for at risk Oakland youth and families, even as OPD, seemingly looking for tasks to stay busy with, receive ever more funding.
Parker’s proposal seemingly did double duty—cleaving Occupy Oakland from broader community efforts such as the nascent Justice for Alan Blueford movement, and bolstering her re-election campaign in the eyes of law and order elites who crave a business-as-usual police state in Oakland’s commercial districts. Little over a week earlier, Parker got a head start on her re-election campaign by distancing herself from Oakland’s poorest communities and broadcasting her fealty to downtown elite business interests; Parker and council member Rebecca Kaplan issued a press release, duly copied on to newsprint by local papers, announcing their “stop window smashers” campaign. They urged residents to turn in video evidence of Oakland protesters breaking inanimate objects. The press release was timed to appear the next day, as the Blueford family held a rally and march in East Oakland to draw attention to their search for answers from the OPD.
In all of these cases, the City Council and OPD have scoffed at the rights of citizens to have oversight over the use of violence and repressive legal means against their communities. And they continue to wage an unconstitutional “law-fare” battle of criminal prosecutions to intimidate free speech and peaceful protest. The hate crimes prosecution of the Ice Cream 3 and criminal stay away orders for unconvicted protesters from Oscar Grant Plaza are just two weapons in this ever-expanding arsenal.
Free Speech, Now Classified as “Deadly Weapon” by OPD
Yesterday, after a rally in front of the District Attorney’s office, protesters and supporters of the Blueford family made their way to a town hall convened by Police Chief Howard Jordan at Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland. Whatever attendees may have expected, perhaps none were prepared for the offensively closed and controlled structure of the meeting, where questions previously written on cards were answered in any way Jordan liked, without input from the hundred or so people in attendance.
One activist with Occupy Oakland, however, was not satisfied with Jordan’s attempt at damage control, demanding answers from Jordan in an admittedly angry, loud, but completely legitimate, way. Its not surprising that Chris Morland, a young African American Oaklander not much older than Blueford himself would have reason for his rage. After a lifetime of experiencing the kind of quotidian verbal and physical abuse that disenfranchised communities in Oakland deal with far from the interest of the mainstream media, Morland has been specifically targeted again and again by OPD at Occupy Oakland demonstrations.
Morland was arrested during a violent and confrontational police raid on Oscar Grant plaza in December on trumped up charges. He was arrested again during a raid on Oscar Grant Plaza vigil some weeks later; Morland was not even in the plaza, but standing across the street when police deliberately targeted him for arrest for acts of constitutionally protected speech he was not even involved with at the time. That arrest resulted in Morland’s receiving a stay away order—despite not being charged with any crime—which not only prevented him from being involved in actions and political events in OGP, but also prevented him from attending the very city council meetings that were most pertinent to his situation. Indeed, while the council’s public safety committee reviewed a proposal that could mean six months in jail for activists like Morland, Morland, like many other activists, was legally prevented from attending the meeting itself because of extra-legal stay-away orders.
Whatever the case against Morland that OPD have created, it remains true that Morland had already left the church when the meeting was hastily cancelled by Jordan. Morland had returned to the Coliseum BART station with several companions, and then, according to witnesses, was targeted by police and arrested. Morland has three charges, all of them ludicrous given that, according to many witnesses, he never touched officers, nor physically threatened them—the most egregious of these are battery and, fantastically, assault with a deadly weapon. The only item that Morland had that could possibly be construed as a weapon was, in an irony that could not possibly be coincidence, the bullhorn by which he was asserting his first amendment rights at the public meeting. Morland now faces an absurdly high bond of 100,000 dollars and remains in jail as of this writing.
Through a smear campaign of deceit and criminal prosecution, the city government and police seek to separate Occupy Oakland from the other Oakland communities that they savage and abuse on a regular basis. But stunningly repressive and unconstitutional acts like the arrest of Morland—who was arrested while demanding justice for one of the many daily abuses experienced by members of Oakland’s most vulnerable communities—may only bring the activist and non-activist community together in Oakland. There will be a march to free Chris Morland at 7pm on Friday starting at 19th and Telegraph. He will be arraigned at Wiley E. Manuel Courthouse , Dept. 112 at 2pm Friday.
The Great Thing About “Them” for Violent Authoritarians: “Them” is Everywhere
On a not completely unrelated topic, Sri Louise in the Occupied Oakland Tribune notes that the arresting officer, Sgt. James Beere, took time out from OPD in 2004 to go to Fallujah in the Marine Reserves. Here is how he describes his role in what a great majority of Americans now consider to be one of the most propagandized, bloodiest and most ill-conceived acts in recent US history:
“We did a lot of good for the Iraqi people,” he said. “Even though I was in the Anbar province, which was supposed to be the most volatile area, they seemed for the most part to accept us. The children loved us.”
“A lot of the people who are fighting over there aren’t Iraqis themselves. They’re Syrians, Iranians, Jordanians, people from other countries that came to fight us,” he said. “I think a lot of people have forgotten about 9/11. It’s better to fight them in their own backyard than in America.”
Its also worth noting that when Adam Blueford sought answers about the identity of the officer that killed his son, he commented that there needed to be strict personality profile guidelines for hiring police officers and specifically noted the danger of having someone “straight out of military duty in Afghanistan” policing Oakland communities.