By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California
Picture this. In response to a peaceful anti-war protest, the Oakland Police Department uses large wooden bullets, sting ball grenades and shot-filled bean bags, as a result of which at least 58 protesters are injured. That was 2003, and unfortunately sounds eerily similar to reports of OPD’s response to an Occupy Oakland demonstration yesterday evening, in which bean bags or other projectiles appear to have been fired directly into crowds and multiple rounds of tear gas were used.
OPD’s conduct in 2003 led to a class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU-NC, the National Lawyers Guild, ILWU, Local 10 and other civil rights attorneys. The lawsuit led to a historic settlement, with OPD adopting a Crowd Control Policy that strictly limits the use of force and prohibits the indiscriminate use of bean bags and other projectiles against crowds or passive resisters, except in unusual circumstances.
The ACLU of Northern California and the National Lawyers’ Guild demanded a full investigation of yesterday’s events. The groups also asked OPD to immediately produce records about the use of force in responding to the early morning raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment and the evening demonstration, and the detention of those who were arrested. The public has a right to transparency and accountability, and yesterday’s events are no exception. The ACLU-NC is also urging people to email the Oakland Police Department calling for transparency and an end to excessive use of force.
Reports of OPD’s conduct raise serious questions about whether it violated its own policy on dealing with demonstrations.
- The Policy requires the Department to use “the minimal police intervention needed to address a crowd management or control issue.” This video shows a protester who sustained a head injury. Injuries do not appear to be isolated. Did OPD really use the minimal amount of intervention necessary to control and disperse the crowd?
- The Policy requires the Department to use “the minimum amount of chemical agent necessary to obtain compliance.” But the quantity of tear gas that must have been used to generate this cloud-filled scene doesn’t appear “minimum” at all.
- The Policy prohibits the Department from firing bean bags or other “Direct Fired Specialty Impact Less-Lethal Munitions,” such as rubber bullets, “indiscriminately against a crowd or group of persons even if some members of the crowd or group are violent or disruptive. But this video (at 0:43) shows law enforcement firing a projectile directly into a crowd tending to an injured protester.
Yesterday, after OPD’s early morning raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment, Acting Chief Jordan agreed to conduct an investigation of the Department’s conduct. That’s a start, but the situation demands full transparency and accountability. The investigation should clearly be expanded to the Department’s conduct in handling not just the morning raid but also the evening demonstration. But separate and apart from any internal investigation the Department conducts, the situation requires independent oversight and the public has a right to know exactly what happened.