Oakland to probe police brutality

OAKLAND, Calif. – After an outraged cross section of Oakland residents took to the streets on April 26 to protest and then made their case at an emotionally charged hearing, the Oakland City Council voted 7-1 on April 29 to hire an independent panel to investigate the unprovoked police attack on peaceful anti-war demonstrators and on dock workers waiting to go to work April 7. Dozens of protestors and nine workers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), were injured when police opened fire using wooden dowels, rubber bullets and concussion grenades.

Demanding that city leaders “pledge these attacks never happen again,” Judy Goff, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda Central Labor Council (CLC), told protestors, “The port belongs to the people of Oakland and the police report to the people of Oakland. We will never let them take it away from us.”

More than 1,000 angry demonstrators, representing a broad coalition of labor and community groups, chanted, “Never again, Never again!” as they marched from the Oakland Port Commission offices at Jack London Square to City Hall, taking up three lanes of Broadway Street, Oakland’s main downtown thoroughfare.

Alluding to an April 4 secret meeting between representatives of the Pacific Maritime Association, Oakland Police Department (OPD) and port authorities, Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10 executive board member, asked why his union, which represents dock workers, was not invited to the meeting and whether others, including representatives of the Bush administration’s Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard or the Customs Service “were in the room.”

The ILWU prevailed in last year’s contract battle after facing blatant involvement by the Bush administration on the side of employers, including a phone call from Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, the threat of federal troops and finally the imposition of a Taft-Hartley injunction.

Thomas warned his listeners the right-wing agenda “is loose and we better get organized. They came for longshoremen and peaceful protestors on the 7th – who will they come for next?”

In moving testimony before the City council, protestors and workers injured on April 7 and community leaders demanded the council act decisively. Billy Kepoo, a longshoreman and father of four, was wearing a cast over his broken thumb when he said to the packed council chamber, “Thank my God that what hit my hand did not hit my head. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”

Scott Fleming, an attorney who was hit four times on the back on April 7, accused police of firing “these extremely dangerous weapons” directly at protestors despite regulations specifying they should be aimed at the ground near the feet, which OPD Chief Richard Word said his officers had done. Fleming told council members the labels of empty casings retrieved from protestors clearly warn, “Do not fire directly at person or serious injury or death may result.”

In addition to an independent, impartial investigation, speakers called for reforms in OPD crowd control and community policing; discharge of those responsible for the use of excessive force on April 7; a review; of the role of port corporations and authorities at all levels of government; and strengthening the under-funded and under-staffed Citizens’ Police Review Board.

Anti-war protestors are planning an action for Monday, May 12, at the Oakland waterfront. The event will be titled a “Non-violent Community Picket for Peace and Justice.”

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org.

Fred Gaboury contributed to this article.