Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Police Brutality

OAKLAND, CA - As I was driving up to Sacramento yesterday, I was listening to the news on the radio because I like listening to people with British accents. I turned the radio on in the middle of as story and it took me a full 2 minutes before I realized they were talking about Tunisia, not Oakland. I figured it was time for a post to clear up any nasty rumors that people may have heard about my lovely city by the Bay.

In the very likely event that you have no idea what I'm talking about, let me get you up to speed. For the past couple of weeks, the once local, then national, now global #Occupy movement has been germinating in the park in front of Oakland City Hall and the associated Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. Plagued by the same issues of "fringe" residents/participants (read: crazy homeless people - but actually) that have been seen throughout the movement, the protests were seen as increasingly frightening to local businesses and people with jobs. Several city employees also complained about the smell of the camp - a blend of old food from the camp's kitchen and older food from the adjacent "restroom." This sets the scene for what happened on Wednesday night.

Before I go on, let me clarify something: I am, in general, in support of the #occupy movement. It's the closest thing we liberals have to the Tea Party and I think it has a lot of potential to do good. However, I do not appreciate vilification of my city, largely being perpetrated by outside agitators who think this would be a great opportunity to do some fundraising.

Moving on (as it were), night falls on an otherwise pleasant and unseasonably warm October Tuesday in Oakland. Protesters sleep peacefully, dreaming of the downfall of the political elite and the culture of corruption they feed and live by. At 4:00 am PDT on Wednesday morning, Oakland Police (in regular ass police gear) start rousting people out of bed and clearing them from the park. This was not a violent conflict, but rather a really, really annoying one for anyone who prefers an alarm clock to a police dog. While occupying the park during the day is a healthy (and perfectly legal) form of protest, sleeping in the park at night is illegal, and while the city had tolerated it for two weeks, it had finally decided it had had enough.

Fast forward 12 hours. Those same protesters, now much less groggy and much more pissed off are starting to regroup. Unfortunately, now instead of the standard-uniformed OPD, they are up against a much more formidable, much less friendly San Francisco County Sheriff squad in full riot gear. This is beginning to not look so good. Who knows how a riot starts - an insult lobbed at a cop who is having a really bad day. A protester who gets pushed back a little too hard - one way or another it started. Then came the tear gas. Then came the rubber bullets. Then came the national media.

When the story about Oakland finally did come on the radio, it was difficult to listen to. I know that the protesters' rights weren't fully respected. I know that the protesters were becoming a blight more than a meaningful chance for change. I know that the Oakland Police were not actually responsible for the violence that we're hearing so much about. But listening to what was being said on the radio made it sound so much worse than it really was.

Finally, to the point of this post. Oakland is not a desolate, violent place. Parts of it are desolate, other parts are violent, but most of it is a vibrant celebration of (largely) hipster-free urban life. When Gertrude Stein said "The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn't any there there" she was talking about the absence of her childhood home, not about Oakland in general.

Basically, come visit me. I promise you won't get shot by the police.

Oakland police to protesters: Get the fuck out of our city.

In an open letter to the #occupyoakland protesters, Oakland police urged the protesters to leave, trying to explain to them how they aren't so much sticking it to Wall Street, as they are to the many poor, already downtrodden residents of Oakland.

Here's an excerpt from the letter (emphasis added in bold)
Our police officers are the 99% struggling in Oakland neighborhoods every day to contain the 1% who rob, steal, rape and murder our law-abiding citizens.  The Occupy Oakland protest, now 30 days old, is taking our police officers out of Oakland neighborhoods and away from protecting the citizens of Oakland.

In an average city in California, this might not be of emergency proportions for its citizens.  Oakland is not an “average” city – we have the highest violent crime rate in California.  We are the 5th most violent city in the United States – with more shootings and homicides than any city west of the Mississippi.

Last night’s murder, right in the epicenter of Occupy Oakland, is unacceptable.  So is the violence being promoted by “renegade” protesters who are lighting firebombs, destroying property and attacking police.

What is even more tragic is that homicides are a frequent occurrence in Oakland.  This is the real emergency:  Yesterday’s murder was Oakland’s 101st homicide of 2011.  It is time for us to stop directing all of our efforts at policing the small enclave of “Occupy Oakland” and get back to our job of protecting the citizens of Oakland in the neighborhoods where our residents live.

The events of recent weeks have shown that many occupiers at Frank Ogawa Plaza are citizens of other communities with limited interest in preserving the greater good and safety of our City.

Please, we ask you:  Leave Frank Ogawa Plaza peacefully and immediately so Oakland Police can get back to work fighting the devastating crime that’s occurring in our neighborhoods.
For once, OPD, I am right with you. I have yet to meet an #occupyoakland protester who's actually from Oakland. I'm not saying they don't exist - I understand that a significant number of the protesters live in the city, but I personally haven't met a single one. Also I get the idea that the people protesting are generally college-educated (hence the woes over student loans) and are from relatively affluent backgrounds, at least more so than the hundreds of Oakland residents who depend on bus routes to get around the city (many of which have been cancelled due to the protests) and live in crime-stricken neighborhoods (which now have even less police protection).

Once more: #Occupy, I love the idea, but if you want to occupy wall street, THEN FREAKING OCCUPY WALL STREET!!!! Get the fuck out of Zuccotti park and start shutting shit down for real. Bankers probably don't like your drumming, but they sure as hell can afford earplugs. If you want to stop the flow of corporate dollars to election campaigns, then there are two places you can target: the flow of money out of wall street with campaign finance reform, or the flow of money into wall street with real financial regulations. I would argue that both are in order. I think at this point we've gathered enough support, we're ready to take it to the house. Let's get all these movements together so that the TV news will stop calling us "fractious" and "disjointed" and shut Wall Street down en masse. You get 200,000 people to all sit down in the middle of the street around these major financial headquarters and I guarantee you two things: 1) they can't arrest all of us, 2) Washington will start to fucking listen.


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