Huffpost San Francisco
Aaron Sankin Headshot

Occupy Oakland Crackdown Reveals Divisions Between A City And Its Troubled Police Force

Posted: Updated:
A Occupy Oakland protester, a part of the Occupy Wall Street movements, stands in front of the police line as the police block streets near the Oakland City Hall | Getty

SAN FRANCISCO -- The eruption of violence at last week's Occupy Oakland protest prompted shock across the country, leading some to ask if the long-simmering tensions between the East Bay city and its troubled police department were at least partially to blame.

"Underneath the surface here is a slow burn that could erupt at any point in time," Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris told The Huffington Post. "There are a lot of people in the community who have problems with the police, and it could cause an eruption -- particularly around controversial issues."

Last week, days after city officials gave the protesters camped out at Frank Ogawa Plaza an ultimatum to immediately vacate or face the consequences, Oakland police forcibly cleared people from the encampment using tear gas, sparking a large march later that evening.

The demonstration snaked through downtown and ended back at the plaza at the foot of City Hall, where police surrounded the protesters and ordered them to immediately disperse. When that didn't occur, police -- who were pelted with rocks and bottles during the confrontation -- unleashed a storm of tear gas canisters, one of which allegedly struck 24-year-old Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen in the skull, causing serious brain injury.

Seven police officers were also injured during the protest.

While Olsen is expected to make a full recovery, he has become a symbol not only of the entire Occupy movement, but of the difficult relationship the city of Oakland has with its police force.

Howard Jordan, the city's current top cop, is only running the department on an interim basis. Jordan's tenure only stretches as far back as the beginning of the Occupy Oakland tent city he was tasked with removing.

Early last month, the previous chief, Anthony Batts, abruptly resigned, citing an "overwhelming load of bureaucracy" and frequent battles with the city's political establishment.

Batts often butted heads with Mayor Jean Quan and the Oakland City Council. Both the mayor and city council members refused his requests for expanded civil gang injunctions and the implementation of a youth curfew. Batts believed the measures were necessary to control Oakland's violent crime rate, the highest of any city in California.

"I found myself with limited control, but full accountability," Batts wrote in his resignation letter.

Under Batts' watch, the Oakland City Council decreased the size of the city's police force by around one-fifth. Without as many officers at its disposal, Oakland was forced to rely on help from neighboring agencies, such as the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, in its response to the last week's Occupy rally. In many ways, the number of agencies involved has made it difficult to ascertain precisely what occurred. For example, video from the march shows police using what appear to be flash-bang grenades; however, Oakland police maintain they didn't use any such measures.

While Batts publicly claimed political reasons for leaving the department, many speculated that the looming threat of a federal takeover of Oakland's police force also factored into his decision. Last year, Judge Thelton Henderson threatened to put the department into federal receivership because of its failures to institute significant reforms during the decade following the infamous "Rough Riders" scandal.

In 2000, the city negotiated a settlement with over 100 plaintiffs stemming from allegations that said "Rough Riders," a group of rogue officers, planted evidence, used excessive force and falsified police reports. The officers were fired, but failed to be convicted of any charges. Moreover, the jury was criticized for having no black members in a city where African Americans make up the largest ethnic group.

As a result of the scandal, the department was put under external oversight by a district court and ordered to clean up its act -- something Henderson accuses the department of not being sufficiently willing to do. The department was given around 50 reform benchmarks it was supposed to meet within five years. Since being granted two multi-year extensions, its has still only completed about half of them.

Burris blames the department's inability to effectively reform itself largely on "a lack of consistent leadership." In the past decade, Burris argues, there have been a handful a chiefs, none of whom were able to serve long enough to significantly address the department's myriad issues.

Burris represented a number of protesters in a class action lawsuit against the city for aggressive tactics used by the police department to disperse a 2003 anti-war demonstration at the Port of Oakland during which a number of people were severely injured. As part of the settlement, the department agreed to a new crowd control policy banning the use of non-lethal projectiles and only permitting the use of tear gas under a specific set of circumstances.

It's abundantly clear that the department violated its own policies in response to the Occupy Oakland rally, Burris told HuffPost.

The Oakland Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the progressive Quan, who now faces a recall campaign, has walked the fine line between attempting to stand up for the free speech rights of the Oakland's notoriously volatile protest culture.

When Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Officer Johannes Mehserle was given what many believed to be an especially lenient sentence for shooting the unarmed Oscar Grant at a train station in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood, Quan (then a member of the Oakland City Council) joined a public protest against the verdict, but attempted to calm the crowd when people began throwing objects at the police present.

In the week following the most recent clash between police and protesters, Quan has softened her stance on the Occupy Oakland tent city that was quickly rebuilt in Frank Ogawa Plaza. "It's a complex situation," she said at a press conference with Jordan. "There may have been mistakes made, probably on both sides."

Quan has attempted to strike a similar balance for upcoming protests -- giving government workers leeway to participate while increasing the number of police officers on hand. This move has drawn criticism from the Oakland Police Officers' Association, which sent a letter to the mayor criticizing the decision. "Is it the City's intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?" they asked.

Last Thursday, Quan attempted to speak at another Occupy Oakland rally, but organizers prevented her from doing so.

No matter what happens with the police department, Occupy Oakland's ongoing saga seems unlikely to end anytime soon. This Wednesday, local labor organizations will join with protesters and some student groups for a general strike designed to bring the city to a virtual standstill.

Latest Updates On HuffPost's Live Blog:

live blog

Oldest Newest

Via HuffPost Miami:

When an Occupy Miami member offered evicted protestors vacant apartments in a building he owns in Downtown Miami's Overtown neighborhood, it seemed like the perfect solution: the 'Peace City' space would provide headquarters for the movement and shelter a small faction of the group's most vulnerable members. But it hasn't gone well. Other tenants say the building has become a cesspool of drug use and violence while non-resident Occupy Miami members are trying to distance themselves from the 'radicals' -- all while the two factions are wrestling for control over Occupy Miami's social media sites and future plans.

From the Miami New Times:

The feud between the Overtown occupiers and more mainstream members has only gotten worse. The two factions are now battling for control of Occupy Miami's social media sites. The movement's main Twitter account recently announced it had been "hijacked by a small, non-consensus group of radical members." The Occupy Miami Facebook page was also temporarily hacked by someone inside Peace City. Meanwhile, the Overtown occupation is slowly driving away more moderate members.

"This is a black eye on the Occupy movement," says Shannon Reaze, an Overtown community organizer and Occupy Miami supporter who is now helping tenants move out of Paz's building. "The violence and drugs going on here are way outside of what I thought Occupy stood for. This place is destabilized."

...The supposedly hard-core activists here spend their days drinking and getting high. And as Peace City devolves into lawlessness, the most committed occupiers are leaving. Local landowners and politicians want the place shut down, while cops are suspicious. Yet as long as Paz wants the protesters around, nothing short of a demolition order can keep them out.

Share this:

Via HuffPost DC:

WASHINGTON -- Occupy DC has a new lawsuit involving tents on its hands. But it doesn't involve temporary structures in McPherson Square.

Two protesters arrested during a February action outside Merrill Lynch's offices on 15th Street NW near McPherson Square have filed suit against the Metropolitan Police Department, Legal Times reports. (Read the complaint here.)

The plaintiffs, Samuel Dukore and Kelly Canavan, were part of a "targeted occupation" of Merrill Lynch on Feb. 13 where protesters were raising awareness about Merrill Lynch's reportedly close ties with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa, for his part, claims that the reports of these close ties are "wildly inaccurate."

Full story here.

Share this:

OWS reports via its website:

After the brutal attack on the attempted re-occupation of Liberty Square by NYPD on the 6-month anniversary of #OWS, a number of Occupiers have relocated their base of occupation to Union Square in midtown Manhattan, a point of convergence for several #OWS protests over the past 6 months.

According to reports on the ground, several dozen people slept in the park after the illegal and violent raid on Liberty Square. Over 70 people remain, now on Day 3. Although tents and tables are still banned, Occupiers have brought blankets and sleeping gear. Many are calling it ¨the new Occupation.¨ In addition to holding General Assemblies, Union Square Occupiers are providing vital jail support for those arrested on #M17 as they are released from NYPD custody. So far, the NYPD has made no attempt to remove Occupiers or prevent them from sleeping in the park.

Share this:

Occupy Long Beach is defending the mother's home. For more information, click here.

Share this:

Share this:
The woman had the apparent seizure has been identified by the New York Observer as Cecily McMillan:

Cecily McMillan, an Occupy Wall Street activist once profiled in Rolling Stone, suffered a seizure Saturday night during protest action near Zuccotti Park. Many on-scene reported Ms. McMillan had trouble breathing after she was tackled and handcuffed by law enforcement.

A video uploaded to Youtube late Saturday night purports to show the attack. Two women can be heard commenting, “There’s Cecily,” then there is confusion as the police clearly perform a violent take-down on someone in the crowd.

According to Jeff Sharlet’s November, 2011 article about the Occupy Movement, this may be Ms. McMillan’s second violent encounter with police.

To read the full story, go here.

Share this:

Cops caught on video about 10 seconds in taking down the woman who had the apparent seizure:

Share this:

Watch video from inside Zuccotti Park as police moved in late last night:

- Show quoted text -

Share this:

The paper reports from last night's chaos at Zuccotti Park:

At one point, a woman who appeared to be suffering from seizures flopped on the ground in handcuffs as bystanders shouted for the police to remove the cuffs and provide medical attention. For several minutes the woman lay on the ground as onlookers made increasingly agonized demands until an ambulance arrived and the woman was placed inside.

By 12:20 a.m., a line of officers pushed against some of the remaining protesters, forcing them south on Broadway, at times swinging batons and shoving people to the ground.

Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said.

To read the full story, go here.

Share this:

Share this:
@ Greg_Palast : Our photographer ZD Roberts beaten @OWS Zucotti Park by cops. Thrown to ground, hair grabbd, hit with clubs while yelling, I'M PRESS PRESS!

Share this:
@ macfathom : Doubling east on Barclay, and now the ragged front of the march is at City Hall. #OWS

Share this:
@ LuddoftheFuture : girl in the street having a seizure and the cops have her in handcuffs. can this get any worse (live at

Activists cry out for paramedics. The woman is limp on the ground. "Come on you violent bastards where's the paramedics?"

Share this:
@ jeffrae : March is heading north up broadway #ows #occupywallstreet

Share this:
@ macfathom : Dozens of arrests, many cuffed and sitting on broadway waiting for their ride to jail. #OWS

Share this:
@ RDevro : Police are barricading the park. It's cleared. I witnessed countless violent arrests. No way to estimate numbers.

Share this:
@ troutish : Protesters being dragged out by the head at #OWS #Zucotti Park

Share this:

Cops pulling apart human chains. There are shouts for mic checks. Now, chants start forming. "The NYPD are sweeping through," says Tim on the live stream.

Share this:
@ ANIMALNewYork : Police are moving in. It's chaos.

Share this:
@ ANIMALNewYork : NYPD just made an announcement that Brookfield has to "clean the park" and Liberty Plaza is officially "closed."

Share this:
@ OccupyWallStNYC : Bagpipers just started marching into the park bringing the party mood with them, NYPD arrested one of them, and things got real heated. #OWS

Share this:
@ JackieHRye : NYPD just "destroyed" the tent in Zuccotti Park, Occupiers call for its re-building. Marching band also going through the park. #OWS

Share this:
@ RDevro : The tent in the middle of the park continues to fill with people planning to stay the night. Lots of energy here.

Share this:

Activists ask for more room as the tent is growing, expanding.

"It looks like a floating tent." -- as Tim on his live stream.

Share this:

Owly Images

Share this:
@ OccupyWallStNYC : .@justawall is leading us in a song! "Hit the road, banks! And don't ya come back no more no more no more no more!" #OWS

Share this:

Share this:
Share this:

Activists have assembled make-shift, cardboard sleeping areas inside Zuccotti Park. The cardboard is joined by a large green tarp.

Share this:
@ RDevro : A tarp is going up in Zuccotti as protesters march around the park chant-dancing. #m17

Share this:

Around the Web

Occupy Oakland: Did police use flashbangs and rubber bullets on ...

Michael Moore rallies Occupy Oakland - US news - Life -

Occupy Oakland | World news | The Guardian

Occupy Oakland protesters boo Quan off the stage

Occupy Oakland: As injured Iraq vet recovers, occupiers promise to ...

Occupy Oakland's general strike call: 'Shut down the 1%'

Steve Jobs, Moammar Gaddhafi, Occupy Oakland: October 2011 Buzz

BART protesters plan to 'occupy' Oakland stations

Anti-Peace Flyers Being Distributed at Occupy Oakland

Is It Battlefield 3 or Occupy Oakland?

Occupy Oakland: mayor sorry for clashes that injured Scott Olsen

Occupy Wall Street protests continue after violence in Oakland

Occupy Oakland protesters tear down fence but police stay away

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan responds to recall petition

Occupy Oakland Protesters Return To Plaza