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Policing disorder: Oakland’s curious commitment to criminalizing Occupy

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | January 30, 2012

If you accept Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s framing of the problem here Saturday night, a crowd of unruly and overgrown children had a tantrum/play-date at the expense of Oakland’s hard pressed citizens when some of the displays on the ground floor of Oakland’s City Hall were vandalized (see the pictures in the SFChron here).

Attacking a century old model of the city seems pathetic and mean spirited. But that framing places the attention on the second act of an event which began when an overwhelmingly peaceful march and a long telegraphed “take over” of the empty Henry J. Kaiser convention center on the shores of Lake Merritt and close to the campus of Laney College was confronted by a violent all out assault from Oakland riot police supported by units from nearby police agencies (read the reporting of David Baker and Vivian Ho in the SFChron here). It is clear that the vandalism in City Hall, pathetic as it is, was a response to police violence and not a provocation for it.

Why exactly was it necessary to use violence against citizens, and expend no doubt large amounts of money, to prevent Occupy protesters from setting up a symbolic protest occupation in the shell of an unused property that provides a potent symbol not only of Oakland’s industrial past but also of the role of government in creating an economy for the 99 percent (Kaiser being the ultimate New Deal entrepreneur, see Alonzo Hamby’s 1993 review of The New Dealers, by Jordan A. Schwarz, in the NYTimes here).

The Mayor’s stated positions in speeches and interviews amounts to “its illegal”. But that is a bit like those on the far right who find in the “illegal” status of people here without citizenship or proper visas, justification to strip people of civil and sometimes human rights. Just because its “illegal” does not mean that government should adopt a repressive response, let alone violent means to address it.

What if Mayor Quan had welcome the take over of the Kaiser Center with a speech about the role the New Deal had played in building a middle class centered economy for Oakland and then laid out the following conditions:

The “occupiers” must coordinate with the Oakland police to assure the HJK center is a safe environment for women, children, and all who are involved in or visiting the symbolic take over and that living conditions in the Center remain decent.

The “occupiers” must maintain a decent and healthy physical environment in the HJK Center and its surrounding landscapes, and commit themselves to undertake repairs sufficient to make sure the occupation is safe and that the building is in better shape after the occupation than before.

The “occupiers” must not use the HJK Center to stage acts of violence against people or property anywhere.

Why are the Oakland police and the Oakland political establishment so committed to criminalizing the occupiers? Oakland has enough real crime for the police to focus on. Why not negotiate a security arrangement appropriate to any “occupation” and then back off, taking advantage of the positive social organization that will take place around any active “occupy” site, and redeploy police to crime hotspots?

These crowds, which include lots of people of all ages, including parents with children, should be welcomed in every part of Oakland. Frankly the city needs the energy.

Cross-posted from Jonathan Simon’s blog Governing Through Crime.

Comments to “Policing disorder: Oakland’s curious commitment to criminalizing Occupy

  1. The attempt to takeover a building, unused for six years because the city will now not have the money to retrofit it, thanks to Jerry Brown, was at best misguided. I think it was a deliberate provacation, an attempt to provoke what went down. The buildings parking lots are packed with excavation equipment for the restoration project at that end of the lake that will be done in two years. This is another reason that they had put off work on the building. There is no way you can occupy a building that size and retrofit it too.

    When this group, the .0009% can get a clue about the town, get some leaders, denounce violence they will continually defame the message of Occupy. To complain about “kettling” when you know that every time in the past months the police halted a march you had groups break off and “wild” out in the town, you criminalize yourself.

    If they want a palpable target, march to Sacramento through Stockton, and CoCo County, pointing out the foreclosed properties. Make it public that we support our Attorney General’s efforts to make Wall St. and the banks accountable and not settle for Obama’s slap on the wrist with amnesty from criminal prosecution.

    I am a retired school principal, and Oakland native. I was a member of Oakland Direct Action Committee led by Mark Comfort, who brought the Panther symbol to Oakland from Alabama, and led the Ad Hoc Com. here in the Bay Area. They have criminalized themselves with their ridiculous need for a 90% vote to get things done. This is the same type of tyranny of the minority that Prop 13 has brought to our legislature. They have criminalized themselves. When cops make an arrest of a suspect that resists, they overcome them with numbers, so as not to injure themselves.

    We have real problems with the cops in Oakland, but with the appointment of Howard Jordan I am confident that the consent decree will be enforced. They need not only to read Anarchist screeds, but the history of social discontent that led to the participatory social states in Sweden and Norway. Let’s listen to the other son of Scandanavia so cruelly murdered in Utah, and as Joe Hill said … go on to organize.

  2. I’d just like to point out that Tea Party rallies where attended by people like myself, who took time from work and then went back to their jobs when the rally was over. We did not interfere with anyone’s economic activity, cleaned up after ourselves, did not riot and basically acted like the responsible citizens that we are. The result was a major change in the political landscape that hopefully will also result in taking back the Senate and the White House. Just suggesting that you might use us a model of true democratic grass roots organizing. Also, you might contrast behavior and think about who you really want influencing public policy.

    Thank you.

    • Oh, please, the term “Tea Party” has become nothing more than an epithet for brain dead conservatives. How can you compare a two hour long Tea Party rally to an OCCUPATION? You’re playing right into the government and media’s hands with this Tea Party vs. OWS thing. Believe it or not, both those groups have a lot in common.

      But if you INSIST on bragging about how totally law abiding and awesome the Tea Party was… I might just have to point out that the Tea Party ranks were also rife with white supremacists, militia members, pedophiles, rapists, drug dealers and other right wing extremists. Don’t believe me? Look it up.

  3. Current 24/7 election coverage documents the fact that Mitt and Newt rely on the powers of money and mendacity in their zeal to become president in an era when poverty and chaos are metastasizing due to refusals by super PAC members of their party to provide opportunities for employment and education.

    So Oakland is experiencing increasing vandalism because of the government’s repressive response with police violence. Why does this sound like what is going on in the Middle East, after all, we already have Democracy to prevent these problems don’t we?

    • Mr. St. John, you really need to stop watching so much TV. You should also find another source of information than the various George Soros front organizations and

      • TPR – The last election and legislative actions (including inactions, stonewalling, refusing to compromise and failing to legislate) in the House since then proves that Tea Party is very well organized and dedicated to changing the ways that Democracy is practiced in Washington.

        Obviously Occupy needs much, much better leadership, organization and positive support. That’s a problem that the Democratic Party leaders appear to be unable to provide. However, both violence and destruction by the Occupiers AND the government’s repressive response with police violence must not be tolerated.

        In the meantime, Occupiers could learn a lot about non-violent resistance in their efforts to protect our Civil Rights, Freedoms and American Democracy by studying India’s late ideological leader Mohandas Gandhi. However, there is much to relearn of most value from Founding Fathers like Ben Franklin by the the leadership of both parties, such as COMPROMISE.

        I don’t remember seeing Soros and MoveOn representatives on TV but I’ll keep an out out for them since you finger-pointed at them.

  4. The leadership of the City of Oakland are so intent on “criminalizing” (read: prosecuting the criminal behavior inherent in) the “Occupy” movement because their constituencies are intent on them doing so. As a fairly liberal resident of Oakland and staff member at the UC Berkeley campus, I can say honestly that I’m happy to see petulant trustafarians held accountable for their actions.

    Want to change the system? Work hard from within it–applying clear, rational thought and expressing only well-formed analysis based in fact. Don’t piss people off by driving away patrons of local businesses, vandalizing their neighborhood grocery stores and keeping them from their families by messing up their commutes home after long days at work. As far as the 99% are concerned, the “Occupy” movement is about as morally reprehensible as the oligarchs they claim to protest.

    • Oh, RJ, I know it’s easy to write off the arrests of people you don’t know as outsiders getting what they deserve because that’s the story that they like to tell on the tv box, but it’s simply not true.

      I, an Oakland resident and an elementary school teacher (who has never had a trust fund and can’t even afford to live without roommates), was walking down the street on Saturday night on my way to a recording session. I was reading a book and eating my dinner as I walked so I wasn’t paying enough attention and didn’t notice the line of riot police headed my way.

      The police recognized me because I had spoken up at city council meetings in support of Occupy so they grabbed me at 23rd and Telegraph, marched me three blocks to 25th and Broadway, where I was told I would be arrested for failure to disperse (the irony is not lost on me). I spent 16 hours in county lockup with people who had been arrested for dropping a cell phone and trying to pick it up (he was being charged with a felony resisting arrest), a 70 year old Oakland resident who was not part of the Occupy but called out when he saw an officer beating a woman with a baton (charged with a misdemeanor obstruction), a man who tried to pull someone back while cops hit him in the head and back with batons (felony), a medic who had tried to help someone who was unconscious (one of the many injuries which the newspaper reported as one injury to demonstrators), and plenty more.

      Of the 36 of us locked in a shower room meant for maybe 16-20 people, the most violent thing I heard about was someone who had allegedly thrown an acorn to mock the police’s concussion grenades (felony assault on an officer). I didn’t do detailed financial histories, but none of these people looked like trust fund babies. They looked like a blend of working people like myself and the homeless.

      As for your claim that the Occupy is “as morally reprehensible as the oligarchs they claim to protest” because they (again in your own words, even though much of it is inaccurate) “piss people off by driving away patrons of local businesses, vandalizing their neighborhood grocery stores and keeping them from their families by messing up their commutes home after long days at work.”

      Even if what you were saying was true about Occupiers ruining local business (this myth has been quantifiably debunked), let’s discuss the moral equivalence you draw. Last May, the Oakland Police Department drove up on a car parked in Fruitvale and opened fire. During that assassination by well-known thug Captain Joyner and his men, two unarmed men (one was later said to have had a gun two hundred feet away) were shot and allowed to bleed to death.

      Or perhaps, since you used the word oligarchs, you were referring to the banks that have been taking people’s houses. Maybe you were talking about the California state government whose policies have led the state into bankruptcy, “forcing” them to cut redevelopment funds and “forcing” the City of Oakland to hand out 2500 pink slips. Maybe you were talking about the California Board of Regents, whose mismanagement of funds (even as they give themselves raises) is causing dramatic fee hikes that will essentially privatize the Cal system.

      I guess those are all the things you’re referring to that are as morally reprehensible as knocking down a model of city hall or burning a flag. You have some very interesting priorities.

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