On Oct. 12, Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan announced that 44 of his officers would face some manner of punishment for their abuse of Occupy protesters last year. Some have hailed this decision as a sign that the Oakland Police Department, which has one of the worst records of racist violence of any police department in the United States, is finally going to start holding its officers accountable. A look at the recent decisions by Jordan and the OPD, however, dispels any such hope.
When Oakland is discussed in the national media, it is almost always described as a “violent” city. However, Oakland does not have a history of violence so much as a tradition of resistance. The brutality of the OPD in attempting to impose Jim Crow-style injustice on the African American population of the city inspired the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966.
In 2000, it came to light that a group of OPD officers calling themselves the Rough Riders were beating suspects, planting evidence and writing false reports. A civil action was filed by people in Oakland, and the city settled for millions of dollars. It was also agreed, in a document known as the negotiated settlement agreement, that the OPD would have to make 51 specific reforms by 2012. The reforms would be supervised by a team of former law enforcement officials. If these reforms were not made, the OPD would fall under the receivership of the federal government.
Since 2008, the social justice movement in Oakland has rallied around the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant, who was shot in the back by a transit cop while lying prostrate and restrained on the platform. Oscar Grant activists, who had witnessed first-hand the murderous practices of Bay Area police, were among the founders of Occupy Oakland. They brought to the encampment a sense of the need for defense from police terror. This was expressed at protests by Occupiers carrying shields.
Capitalist media in the Bay Area described these defensive measures in sinister terms. As recently as Oct. 15, pro-cop San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson described Oakland occupiers carrying shields as members of a “mob” who were “brandishing weapons.” This provided the OPD with the cover to launch a series of brutal attacks against the protesters, one of which resulted in severe injury to Scott Olson, an Iraq war veteran, who suffered brain damage when OPD shot a bean bag at his head from close range. Olson was only the most prominent of a number of protesters who were badly injured by the police in Oakland.
By the OPD’s own admission, only about 80 percent of the settlement agreement reforms have so far been achieved. On Oct. 5,, civil rights attorney John Burris filed a motion to put the OPD under federal receivership. The hearing is set for Dec. 12. It was in this context that Chief Jordan decided to punish a number of his subordinates for the violence the department used against the people of Oakland during the Occupy protests. Two officers will be fired, a third demoted, and 15 others suspended. Twenty-six other cops will face trivial reprimands. Jordan is trying to send the message that the OPD is capable of policing itself and is not in need of federal oversight.
It is, of course, far from justice that only two cops will lose their jobs, while 106 protesters were arrested and charged with crimes, and many suffered serious bodily harm. Still, it constitutes some admission of responsibility on the part of the OPD.
No prosecution for killer of Alan Blueford
Lest anyone think that machinery of the state in Oakland is changing for the better, only three days prior to Jordan's announcement, Alameda County prosecutors announced that they would not be pursuing charges against Miguel Masso, the Oakland cop who shot and killed 18-year-old Alan Blueford on May 6. Senior Deputy District Attorney Kenneth Mifsud wrote, “Officer Masso actually and reasonably believed that his life was in danger after he had made eye contact with Mr. Blueford and that if he did not shoot, he would be killed."
This is a highly surprising finding for the DA's office to make, as the OPD's report shows that 12 out of 13 witnesses reported that Masso fired at Blueford while the latter was lying on the ground. Five of the witnesses reported hearing Blueford's last words after he was shot. He cried, “I didn't do anything!” One witness said a woman screamed at Masso, “What are you doing to him?!”
Several of the witnesses in the police report claim that Masso stood over Blueford for several minutes after killing him. This contradicts Masso's claim that, in his shock and terror, he ended up shooting himself in the leg as a result of panic. It is true that by the time other cops arrived at the scene, Masso was on the ground with a bullet in his leg that he initially claimed Blueford had fired at him. Masso has since claimed that he did not know the gunshot was self-inflicted because he was “confused.”
For the Alameda County DA, that Blueford's thumbprint was found on a bullet magazine removed by the cops from a gun they allege to have found 20 feet from the body overrides the testimony of all the witnesses. Nobody had seen this gun before police “backup” arrived to assist Masso. The Blueford family has already openly conjectured that the police planted the gun and placed the magazine in their dead son's hand. It has since been revealed the gun belonged to a cop. The police claim the gun was, stolen from the cop's home in a previously unreported robbery.
On Oct. 16, Alan Blueford's parents, Adam and Jerilynn, held a press conference to deride the clearly prejudicial findings of the DA's report. They also revealed previously unknown facts about the night of their son's death. Alan’s parents detailed how a crowd of people had gathered around the scene of the shooting. When additional police arrived, two of the cops had jumped out of their cars and pointed assault rifles at the crowd. A woman who cried out at Masso was roughed up and arrested.
The Bluefords also revealed that the OPD has refused their requests to view footage of their son's pursuit from Masso's chest camera. The OPD claims that the footage does not exist, but this could only be the case if Masso did not turn on his camera when he stopped Blueford and his friends, an offense for which any cop could be fired. The OPD has taken no disciplinary action against Masso.
Will federal oversight lead to positive change?
As such abuses continue, one can see why many would welcome any kind of new oversight for the OPD, from the federal government or elsewhere. If the OPD is put under federal receivership, does this mean that the federal government really wants to protect the people of Oakland from OPD terror?
In cities across the country, individual cops are occasionally fired or even arrested for corruption and abuse. These individuals are routinely labeled “bad apples” by the media, which tries to assure us that the majority of cops are good and decent; that the fundamental role of the police is to “protect and serve.” In fact, the only people the cops protect and serve are the capitalist class, the 1 percent.
In the case of the OPD, the media has painted a picture of an entire police department as a “bad apple” buckling under the pressure of policing a “violent and corrupt” city, demonizing a politically progressive and militant community.
Police forces around the country colluded with each other and the federal government to shut down the Occupy encampments. The same federal government that may “oversee” the OPD also orchestrated a national plan to shut down the Occupy protests. The only real solution to police terror, in Oakland and across the country, can be summarized by a chant heard at Occupy Oakland: “This system has got to die!”