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Occupy Oakland Spotlights Police Actions in Forum

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 08:08:00 AM

Occupy Oakland protesters sought to draw connections between police actions at recent demonstrations and what they say is a history of misconduct by the department at a forum held at the Grand Lake Theater on Thursday. 

Protesters gathered at the theater near Lake Merritt for Occupy Oakland's "Citizen Police Review Board" event, which was organized after a meeting by the city's official police review board on recent protests was canceled. 

One topic of discussion was the threat of the Oakland Police Department being placed under court-ordered federal receivership because of delays in making reforms required by a 2003 class action settlement. 

In that case, a group of 119 Oakland residents had alleged that a number of police officers who called themselves "the Riders" made false arrests, beat suspects and planted evidence, among other abuses.  

The deadline for implementing the reforms was initially 2008, and was later extended to 2010 -- but 10 of the 51 required changes still have not been made.  

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson last month gave a court-appointed monitor more power over the Police Department and said he would not rule out receivership if the reforms weren't implemented. 

Jim Chanin, one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs in the Riders case, spoke at Thursday's Occupy event, saying that if he does not see major reforms by the department this year, he will press the judge to place the department under federal control. 

"It's taken too long," Chanin said. "We're going to move for receivership if there's not a radical improvement in this calendar year." 

Chanin said the department appears to be unable to accomplish the reforms on its own.  

"They really don't have very good perceptive powers about what they can do themselves," he said. 

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan released a statement last month saying there would be "swift and decisive action" to implement the reforms. 

"We are committed to taking action and making demonstrable progress on the reforms necessary to ensure that we meet our collective goal," Quan and Howard said in a statement. 

Chanin also compared the recent clashes with protesters to an April 1, 2003, protest at the Port of Oakland at which police fired less-then-lethal weapons on protesters attempting to disrupt the operations of two shippers with government contracts related to the Iraq War. 

He said that after the 2003 protest, he helped draft a new crowd-control policy for Oakland police with the American Civil Liberties Union. He read from that policy during Thursday's event, and charged that police had repeatedly violated it during Occupy Oakland demonstrations. 

"Not only was there no medical aid on site, in some cases people who tried to give medical aid were themselves gassed by police," Chanin said. 

Following Chanin's talk, Occupy Oakland protester and citizen journalist Spencer Mills, who streams protests online, played video clips to show instances of when he said officers violated the crowd-control policy. 

Among the clips was footage of tear gas and smoke grenades being fired on crowds on Oct. 25, including at protesters attempting to help a wounded demonstrator on the ground. There was footage of police using batons on protesters on the ground and firing a beanbag round at a demonstrator filming police.  

"The goal here is not to demonize the police," Mills said. 

He alleged, however, that Oakland police have shown a lack of control. 

Mills has also been a vocal critic of violence coming from protesters, and has shouted on his streams at protesters throwing bottles, denouncing them as "cowards."  

Protesters have been violent toward police on a number of occasions, including during a Jan. 28 demonstration in which the Police Department claimed its officers were pelted with bottles, metal pipe, rocks and other objects. That same day, a group broke into and vandalized City Hall. Hundreds were arrested. 

Before Mills spoke, Stan Oden, a professor at Sacramento State University and a former Black Panther, drew connections between protests today and those in the 1960s. 

Patrick Caceras, assistant to the city administrator, appeared on behalf of the city of Oakland and the official Citizens Police Review Board, and told the crowd that, given recent developments, the review board forum had needed to be postponed. 

Caceras said the forum would be rescheduled, but that new considerations came up after the Jan. 28 demonstration. For example, he said, prosecutors sought stay-away orders to prevent protesters who were arrested that day from returning to Frank Ogawa Plaza, and because of that they would not have been able to legally attend any meeting at City Hall.  

He said the city is looking to find a venue that will allow everyone to attend, and to focus on more recent protests as well as demonstrations on Oct. 25 and Nov. 2. 

Police Chief Howard Jordan was invited by protesters for a question-and-answer session, but did not attend Thursday's meeting.