Leader Condemns Nutcracker Arrests

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday September 11, 2008 - 09:46:00 AM

The leader of Oakland’s Nation of Islam mosque has charged that few of the 54 individuals arrested in the City of Oakland’s much-publicized June “Operation Nutcracker” raid targeting West Oakland’s Acorn Gang have actually been charged with serious crimes, and that the raid itself endangered many of the Acorn Project residents it was supposed to protect. 

Minister Keith Muhammad of Oakland Mosque 26B is calling the June 17 raids and arrests “a heavy-handed use of force” and is criticizing charges by California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Oakland police officials that the individuals arrested were “urban terrorists.” 

“We’re worried that what is being set up is the eventual development of an American Guantanamo where citizens can be incarcerated for long periods of time without charges,” Muhammad said in a KPFA radio interview last week, adding that the raids may be part of a drive to clear West Oakland neighborhoods of poor and African American residents so that developers can come in to build high-priced residential communities. 

Muhammad is a respected member of Oakland’s African-American faith community, and was one of the ministers in attendance at the recent funeral services for the mother of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. Mosque 26B is not affiliated with North Oakland’s Your Black Muslim Bakery, but is an affiliate of Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.  

Last June, Oakland police officials reported a massive raid on West Oakland’s Acorn project that netted 34 arrests and the seizure of at least nine firearms, large amounts of cocaine and marijuana, and more than $10,000 in cash. More than 400 Oakland police officers and law enforcements officers from several other local, state, and federal agencies participated in the raids. In addition, 20 more suspects were arrested during Operation Nutcracker prior to the June 17 raid.  

Police have said that Acorn Gang members dealt drugs in the neighborhood surrounding their Acorn Project headquarters, and had been responsible for numerous shootings and killings stemming from an ongoing three-way West Oakland/North Oakland gang war. OPD Homicide Lt. Ersie Joyner called the Acorn Gang “the most violent gang I’ve ever seen” in 17 years of police work. 

An Oakland Tribune article on the OPD press conference reported that “Joyner said because of the large number of arrests, police believe they have dismantled the gang’s infrastructure enough to make it difficult for members to regroup.”  

But two and a half months after the June raids, Muhammad says that only five or six individuals have been charged with serious crimes, and “most of the 54 individuals arrested have been released without charges at all.” Muhammad says that does not fit the official OPD position that the raid resulted in the breaking up of a violent street gang. 

The Berkeley Daily Planet has not been able to confirm Muhammad’s charges about the numbers of Operation Nutcracker arrestees released or the total list of the types of crimes they were charged with.  

Earlier this month, the Oakland Police Department denied the Daily Planet’s public records request for the arrest records of the 54 Operation Nutcracker arrestees on several grounds, including the fact that release of the information “may endanger the successful completion of any current or prospective investigation, or may disclose investigative techniques.” 

In response to a second request for a list of the 54 arrestees and the charges against them, the Oakland Police Department provided redacted arrest records for only eight of the 54 arrested individuals, saying that the public records request “was not specific enough” to identify the remaining records. 

Of the eight Operation Nutcracker arrest records provided, one—33-year-old Mark Anthony Candler—was for homicide, with several more for illegal firearms possession, possession of controlled substances for sale, and violation of the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act. The rest of the charges of the eight arrestees were for lesser crimes, including forgery, parole violation, and contempt of court for violation of a court order. 

Meanwhile, Muhammad says that he has met with residents of the Acorn Project, who have told him that they felt terrorized by the police raid itself, which included more than 400 officers. 

“Among the things they talked of were armored personnel carriers, snipers, and concussion grenades thrown into homes,” Muhammad said in his KPFA radio interview. “Some 30 homes had forced entry. We feel the raid could easily have resulted in a bloodbath of the innocent as well as those who were accused.” 

A month earlier, Muhammad told members of the Oakland City Council at an open forum that he had talked with residents of the Acorn Project including “grandmothers whose doors were kicked in” and “parents who had grenades blow up in their homes with burns in the carpets. You’re just blessed that none of the babies was burned.” 

Muhammad said that the language of Attorney General Brown, who called the Acorn Gang members “urban terrorists,” was “incendiary and dangerous,” and did not think it reflected the feelings of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.  

“Neither Mayor Dellums nor his staff members were present at the press conference” where Brown made the statement, Muhammad said. “Mayor Dellums is an old 1960s advocate for the poor. I’m certain that he is not pleased with the way the attorney general is characterizing our community.”