WASHINGTON -- Last week, civil rights attorneys in Oakland filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a civil suit against the Oakland Police Department, alleging officers had used excessive force against Occupy Oakland activists.
With the recent pepper spray incidents at UC Davis, Seattle and Portland, and the continued police clashes in New York City and elsewhere, civil litigation is inevitable. And the Oakland Police Department has exhibited some of the most brutal responses to Occupy activists.
At issue is the decision by the Oakland Police Department -- and its various support agencies -- to use rubber bullets, bean bag pellets and tear gas on the Occupy Oakland encampment in late October and the subsequent protest march. Their responses have produced images of a wheelchair-bound protester caught in a fog of tear gas and critical injuries to two military veterans. Interim Oakland Police Department Chief Howard Jordan has promised to investigate any allegations of excessive force. Mayor Jean Quan has vowed to monitor the investigations closely.
But is there an explanation for the Oakland cops' dramatic display of force? Did Jordan look out at that sea of activism and see anarchy? He shared such sentiments in a April 2005 deposition in which he stated that he considered anti-war groups to be anarchists.
The deposition was taken as part of an excessive force case in which the police department had fired non-lethal weapons on activists at the Oakland port in April 2003. Plaintiff attorney James Chanin asked Jordan about his views, noting that the police official had labeled three anti-war groups -- Not In Our Name, International ANSWER and Direct Action To Stop the War -- as anarchist groups in a report.
As Chanin began interrogating Jordan, it became clear that the officer had done little research on the subject.
"What led you to conclude that these groups were anarchist groups?" Chanin asked.
"From some of the stuff I saw on the Internet and watching TV," Jordan answered. "There had been a number of demonstrations in San Francisco where I'd seen those slogans portrayed on TV."
After a little back and forth, Chanin asked: "What did you see on the Internet that made you think that these groups were anarchist groups?"
Jordan answered: "Some of the things that they were saying. Stop the war, and the government slogans, some of the things that they had -- anti-government things they had spoke about doing at port, which was to shut down the port."
Chanin asked what Jordan meant by "anarchist group."
Jordan responded by stating, "To me, an anarchist is someone who is opposed to any kind of government action, someone that takes action against things being done by the government. For example, paying taxes."
Chanin followed up by asking if he noticed whether the anti-war groups called for non-violent demonstrations. Jordan admitted he did not notice.
Jordan later highlighted one of the goals of the group Direct Action to Stop the War as proof that they were anti-government. The group had wanted to "to transform our cities and towns from profits, oil and war, to resistance and life."
Jordan explained: "I think this is a statement against the government, against the government entity. That's my interpretation of it."
But there was more of Direct Action's rhetoric that set off Jordan's alarm bells. He answered that he believed the following statement was that of an anarchist group: "Uproot the system behind the war (and behind the war at home; racism, poverty, corporate globalization); help catalyze mass movements to challenge corporate and government power and create socially just, directly democratic ecological, peaceful alternatives."
"It's a statement against the government," Jordan stated. "It's something that would promote anti-government behavior."