Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's going on in Oakland?

This morning the radio news brought word of an intense ongoing clash between police and Occupy movement members in Oakland California. Once I was awake I got online to find more information. I wasn't sure about what I was going to find. I support the Occupy movement, and consider myself a part of it. I also remember demonstrations back in Eugene, Oregon, where macho-male anarchists seemed to crave confrontations with the police. And yes, the police generally overreacted, but the story was ususally more complicated than a simple one of brutal police squashing peaceful protests. While I still can't be sure what happened in Oakland, what I've seen and read leads me to believe that the protesters were mostly peaceful and the police went off the wall.

So here's what I found. The Los Angeles Times reported that Oakland Police admitted using tear gas and bean-bag rounds against protesters, but said this was necessary to defend themselves against bottles, rocks, and paintballs that protesters were throwing at them. According to the Times, protesters accused the police of also using flash grenades and rubber bullets, and claimed that some paintballs were directed at police, but only after police charged the crowd.

I found this analysis from Colorlines to be really useful and interesting. For one thing, it pointed out that the Oakland police department has a history of deadly unlawful violence and racial profiling -- a history made more complicated by the recent election of an Asian-American woman mayor who appointed an African-American man as police chief:
Miller’s questions to Taylor about the role of race in the policing of Occupy Oakjland points to what is and will continue to be the larger question in Oakland and other U.S. cities where former “minorities” are becoming majorities: What does it mean when those charged with defending elite interests against multi-racial and increasingly non-white activists are themselves multiracial and non-white? The ongoing protests, mayor recall, phone calls, emails and other pressure and pushback of Occupy Oakland are no longer aimed at cigar-smoking white men. They are aimed at a power structure in Oakland whose public face looks more like Miller and other non-white protesters.

Miller and others are calling for the recall of Jean Quan, who made history as Oakland’s first Asian-American mayor (full disclosure: Quan’s daughter is my Facebook friend); and they are complaining about the use of excessive police violence authorized by Interim Chief Howard Jordan, an African American. Such conflicts between former minorities are becoming the norm in what more conservative commentators call the “post-racial” era ushered in by the election of Obama.

Quan and Jordan are in the throes of dealing with a police department plagued by officer-involved shootings and killings, corruption and other crimes—crimes that have forced a federal consent decree to reform the department, after officers were convicted of planting evidence and beating suspects in West Oakland. Taking her cue from the Obama campaign of 2008, Quan announced Jordan’s appointment at a public safety forum titled “Creating Hope in the Community.”
Finally, the folks at Democracy Now! had an excellent segment on the Oakland situation this morning:

It appears that police departments nationwide are trying to create unfavorable stereotypes about the Occupy movement in order to limit free speech rights and peaceful protest.

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