Column: Undercurrents: Looking for Follow-Up Answers to Oakland Police Story By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR
You ever wonder what happens to sensational stories that hit the local media, get everybody talking for a few days, and then just drop off the face of the earth? How many times in these situations do you see a follow-up story—either in the media or in some government agency—to find out how much of the original story was true? And if we don’t have a follow-up, how much effect does the original story—true or not—have on city policies?
An example would be the story about the seven shots that were supposed to have been fired at two Oakland police officers following a motorcycle club charity event at the Kaiser Convention Center on the last Saturday in August. (According to the reports, you may remember, nobody, including the officers, were hit with the bullets.)
There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that the bullets were fired. But the question I’m still waiting to have answered is whether it’s ever been determined that anyone actually fired at the officers—as the newspaper and television stories said—or if the officers were unintended targets.
Today’s lesson, however, is on another interesting thing that came out of that night.
In its story following the Kaiser Convention events, the Oakland Tribune reported that the fundraiser was sponsored by four motorcycle organizations, which the newspaper identified as the Shadows of the Knight, Kings of Cali, Wiseguys and Goodfellas. The Trib story went on to say that “[Oakland Police] Lt. Paul Berlin said the group had another event planned for the Kaiser Convention Center next weekend. He said he would ask city officials this week to revoke the group’s permit because of the commotion Saturday night. ‘We have enough problems here in Oakland,’ Berlin said.”
Yes, we do, but maybe one of those problems isn’t the motorcycle clubs.
Me, I was curious about what happened to that event on the following weekend, so I checked the calendar website at the Kaiser Convention Center first, to see what actually had been scheduled. Sure enough, there was a motorcycle club event on the Convention Center calendar for Sept. 3, the Saturday after the “seven shots.” But it wasn’t being put on by the four motorcycle clubs that had put on the charity event the week before. It was the 47th Annual Dance sponsored by the East Bay Dragons.
The Oakland Police Department still hasn’t released to the public—at least as far as I can find—any information that the four motorcycle clubs had anything to do with the problems that occurred after their Aug. 27 event. Those motorcycle groups have denied that the turmoil that happened afterwards was their fault. But even if it was—and, as I said, that hasn’t been determined yet—why should the Oakland police take it out on another group—the East Bay Dragons—who didn’t have anything to do with the original event at all? Because they’re all black motorcycle clubs?
And if you think that maybe the Tribune reporter might have misinterpreted what Lt. Berlin was saying, other members of the local media were getting the same impression. The day after the shootings, CBS Channel 5 reported that “there is another Shadows of the Knight event scheduled for the Kaiser Convention Center next weekend.”
Was this a deliberate falsehood by Lt. Berlin, or just an “honest” mistake by a police official who talked to the press without first checking his facts? I have no way of knowing. But it makes you sort of wonder, doesn’t it, what other sorts of incorrect information gets spread around by public officials hereabouts that never gets corrected, and so the public ends up believing that it is true. (I’ve got my own list, which I’ll be glad to share with you.)
Anyway, I know a little bit about the East Bay Dragons, since their 88th Avenue and International Boulevard headquarters is within walking distance of where I grew up. In the ‘50s, the Dragons were considered a wild and rough group in our neighborhood. But like the rest of us, they’ve grown older and more responsible with the passing years and besides, what we thought was wild and rough in the ‘50s would be considered tame now by the sometimes-vicious standards of today’s mean streets of Oakland.
Anyways, I walked around to the clubhouse last weekend and asked them what happened with their Sept. 3 event at the Kaiser. They said that it didn’t get canceled, and went on without any problems. But some of the members did have complaints about other OPD crackdowns on their weekend activities.
On the Friday before Labor Day, they said that Oakland Police forced them to shut down a dance at their headquarters at 10 p.m. because the police said they didn’t have a cabaret license. The East Bay Dragons members said they’ve been holding the annual dance for years with no cabaret license and no problems; it’s set up for visiting motorcycle clubs who come into town for the Dragons’ Labor Day weekend gathering.
And on the Sunday before Labor Day, Oakland police shut down the Dragons’ annual 88th Avenue block party at 5 p.m., and then conducted a sweep in which they ordered the crowds of people off of International Boulevard in the vicinity of the Dragons’ clubhouse.
The Dragons do this every year on Labor Day weekend, blocking off 88th between International and A Street and playing music and selling sodas and barbecue. They have events for the kids as well as for teenagers, young adults, and the older crowd. It’s one of the yearly highlights of our neighborhood. The crowds are enormous, and club members handle both the security and the cleanup themselves. In fact, when the police wanted the block between 88th and 87th on International cleared of the crowds, they first went to the Dragons for assistance. One of the Dragons walked down the street with a bullhorn, telling people that the party was over and it was time to go home. Nobody voiced any complaints, and within minutes, the sidewalk was virtually empty. Oakland police, trying the same thing, usually get met with resentment and noncooperation.
But since East Bay Dragon community gatherings are peaceful events, and since the people of East Oakland have been complaining that we don’t have enough things to do in our neighborhood, why did the Oakland police shut things down early, long before dark, while neighborhood people were still hanging out, enjoying themselves, with no signs of problem? And why was it necessary to cut off the Dragons’ Friday night dance so early, killing the dance altogether? Did OPD decide this on their own, or were they under orders from city officials?
We keep hearing that the city can’t set up alternatives to the sideshows because, since they involve spinning cars, they would be too dangerous. But when East Oaklanders like the East Bay Dragons set up other long-term alternative events that don’t involve cars and don’t get violent, those things are now getting shut off, too. What, then, is the problem?
I’m not going to speculate—not just yet, anyways—but I’d be interested in hearing if the OPD has an answer, or if either Mayor Jerry Brown or any of the members of the Oakland City Council have anything to say about it.