Since evidence first surfaced that Oakland police officers engaged in statutory rape and prostitution with a minor, many police activists have understandably celebrated the daily hail of resignations and the fluid chain of failed replacement and interim police chiefs, as one “scandal” after another fells the pretenders—first Chief Sean Whent, then Fairow, then Figueroa. This is all a naturally amusing and healthy schadenfreude over a police force that has gotten away with murder for decades. But the consistent focus on politically oriented and falsely constructed “sex scandals” has occulted the actual processes of police corruption and violence and network of secrecy and protection at OPD.
To get to the heart of the matter, we should be using the appropriate language to discuss this current, and very narrowly focused “scandal”. This is not a sex scandal—the online sexting, the real world sexual stalking and harassment of Celeste Guap, under color of law is a rape scandal. This is not a sex scandal–the passing of Guap’s number from cop to cop is a human trafficking and pimping scandal and a sexual violence scandal. This is not a sex scandal—it’s a corruption scandal, in which the police chief himself sought to bury not only the evidence of statutory rape of Guap, but the possibility that one of the officers who raped Guap also murdered his wife, shortly before taking his own life. The rape scandal is a vile node in a viral network of malfeasance and abuse of power demonstrating that 13 years after the consent decree that brought OPD under federal oversight, city and city council officials continue to give police cover and encouragement to flout their own disciplinary procedures. Every mechanism that exists to monitor, control and discipline OPD at the local level is an abject failure, and the OPD rape scandal is only the clearest example of it because it is the only one mainstream media have shown any interest in.
To a certain extent, despite the withering and daily barrage of criticism that threatens Mayor Schaaf’s political star, the city and police themselves have benefitted from the tenor of the coverage and the characterization of the “scandal-problem” at OPD. The focus on scandalish gotcha research into the clown-car cavalcade of failed interim OPD chiefs is a great example of this dynamic at work and the insidious way it obscures and normalizes otherwise shocking and violent unlawful behavior.
Fairow resigned from the OPD chief position after allegations emerged that he’d had an extra-marital affair, a consonant and media-friendly reason for his elimination given the characterization of the statutory rape, pimping and corruption scandal at OPD as a “sex scandal”. But there were other very troubling issues around Fairow, they were public and easily available to reporters who seemed completely disinterested. Fairow and others in BART PD’s top brass are currently the focus of a lawsuit by the widow of a slain BART cop who was shot by another officer in a botched warrant search of a Dublin home. At the heart of the suit are important issues about how law enforcement agencies dysfunction in the US.
BART PD exceeded its purview by absurdly large margins, conducting armed searches of domiciles, despite having as its core role the ostensible protection of passengers at transit stations and trains. This incredibly dangerous practice was then made even more hazardous by a lack of serious training and practices—in this case, it was a BART cop who was killed, but make no mistake, the cop who killed him intended to kill resident of the apartment or building. On top of all this, when questioned by the very BART cop who was subsequently killed in the Dublin friendly-fire, Fairow called police who were not willing to enter dark apartments guns blazing “pussies”—neatly encapsulating the encouragement of violence accompanied by fragile male ego and toxic masculinity responsible for the laizzes fair attitude to killing civilians.
Former Assistant Police Chief, Paul Figueroa, had similar baggage, and it was just as public as that of Fairow. Despite there being no clear evidence for why Figueroa quit the chief position and his own assistant chief position, local news never once mentioned Figueroa’s role in the severe injury of protester Scott Olsen during the Occupy Oakland protests. Figueroa gave the order to use less lethal ammunition against protesters, and may have conspired with several officers later to doctor reports of the incident. Moreover, Figueroa should never have been in charge of the OPD’s tactical team the night of that protest, because he was tasked within the internal affairs division of investigating it and actions like it. Despite this, he was later promoted by newly minted Chief, Sean Whent, who also worked in Internal Affairs, who ignored and most likely helped stifle the investigation into the injury of Olsen.
It was in fact this very dynamic—an encouragement to flagrant behavior because disciplinary tools within the OPD are deliberately hobbled—that led to this current highly-publicized scandal. And yet, despite the fact that Sean Whent had been getting away with it since the day he took office and named his own assistant–a fellow conspirator in burying investigations—It’s been of very little interest to official observers and journalists.
Of course, no one at city hall is benefitting from OPD’s pedophilic rape scandal. But it is clear that after the news broke and did its damage, many within the administration, from Schaaf to members of the public safety committee, have been managing the fiasco and making some passable lemonade. Schaaf has constantly diverted the character of the rape scandal—references to “off duty conduct”, “sexual misconduct” and a “frat house” atmosphere at OPD have effectively bent the narrative from its more disturbing reality and have led to the focus on spectacle and singular conduct of officers, not de rigeur and habitual violations as a product of enduring cultural practices at the police department.
And members of the city council’s public safety committee who have been tasked to oversee the police, have suddenly emerged as reformist heroes, despite having for years, as a matter of public record done their utmost to make sure that the OPD receive little scrutiny and got every budget bullet point they asked for. Led by law and order dick-pounder, Noel Gallo, and mild-mannered law enforcement booster, Dan Kalb, the clique of pretend-OPD-reformers, now includes Annie Campbell Washington and Abel Guillen.
For years, these freshmen city council people tasked with oversight of the OPD sat idly by, never asked any questions and heaped praise upon OPD. Gallo once demanded far-reaching police powers for OPD that would have surely led to deaths and high incarceration for his failed youth curfew proposal. Kalb enthusiastically voted for an expansion of OPD-FBI coordination, adding an inter-agency office in the OPD hq for major crimes. Major crimes, by the way, is led by Roland Holmgren, whose jacket is a James Patterson novel ranging from police brutality against protesters at the port in 2003, and against Scott Olsen in 2012, violence, deceit, and corruption. Most recently, Holmgren was implicated in pressuring a family to ignore a drunken home invasion by an off duty OPD police officer. Just two weeks ago, Campbell-Washington and Guillen were trying to sabotage the questionable Gallo-Kalb legislation on behalf of OPDs union, but are now wearing FTP t-shirts to the gym.
These are not just idle annoyances, or even mild nausea at watching the sausage making machine eject its products. There is a very real chance that the only viable tool to reign in the OPD—a current proposal to create a ballot measure that is snaking through the city council—will be perverted to such an extent in the process that it becomes unrecognizable. While many are predicting the downfall of Schaaf, another possibility is imminent. Schaaf can pivot the current dumpster fire into a career-signature “reform” of OPD with superficial legislation that does little to actually stem the lack of transparency and wild west environment at OPD.
Kalb, Gallo—and even more fantastically, Guillen and Campbell-Washington—will take credit for crafting the legislation, despite being asleep at the OPD wheel for three years. The legislation and ballot measure may appear good at preventing the “frat house” behavior that Schaaf and others have successfully reshaped from the OPD rape case. But it will not be any leash at all on traditional violence and malfeasance from the OPD. The ballot measure will probably work effectively to stifle criticism of city hall and extinguish the blaze.
The focus on the falsely constructed sex scandal has already had real opportunity costs. A week ago, during the current media-frenzy sex-scandal, a Stanford study years in the making was released. It revealed that Black Oakland residents are stopped for searches at rates more than double their proportion of the population. Black suspects are handcuffed far more often than any other race—one in four Black men were handcuffed in the stops, compared to 1 in 15 white men. Its these racially motivated contacts with police that lead to police murder of Black men in Oakland and high incarceration rates and the terror that Black men experience on Oakland streets.
But almost no one is talking about that right now, three years into the Black Lives Matter movement, and 13 years into federal oversight of the OPD.