New City Report on Protest Arrests Raises Ferguson-like Concerns

Standing at the podium during the City Council's public hearing were (L to R): Karissa Lewis, Black Radical Farmer, Black Friday 14; Robbie Clark, Black Friday 14, Black Lives Matter; Mollie Costello, Black Friday 14, Alan Blueford Center for Justice; Nell Myhand, Black Friday 14; and Cat Brooks, ONYX, Black Power Network, Black Friday 14. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Standing at the podium during a recent public hearing at City Hall  were (L to R): Karissa Lewis, Black Radical Farmer, Black Friday 14; Robbie Clark, Black Friday 14, Black Lives Matter; Mollie Costello, Black Friday 14, Alan Blueford Center for Justice; Nell Myhand, Black Friday 14; and Cat Brooks, ONYX, Black Power Network, Black Friday 14. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ashley Chambers

A new city report highlighting how Oakland police responded to protests in the city last year – sparked by the failure to indict police officers in killings of unarmed Black men by law enforcement around the country – has raised concerns of Oakland residents.

According to the report recently released to the public by the Oakland Police Department (OPD), 23 protests took place between Nov. 24 and Dec.31 last year, resulting in 116 arrests and 230 citations issued.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s office has charged 14 protesters from cases reported by OPD, which is nearly half of the charges against protesters in Alameda County during the same time period. There are still ongoing investigations.

As of March 24, 2015, “We have charged 39 individuals from cases brought to us by Oakland PD, Berkeley PD, BART PD, CHP Oakland and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office with incident dates between Nov. 24 and Dec. 31,” said Rebecca Richardson, Communications and Publications manager at the D.A.’s office, in an email to the Post.

This number also includes the 14 Black Friday protesters who shut down service at the West Oakland BART station on Nov. 28, 2014.

Community members are questioning why the report does not provide a breakdown of arrests, citations and charges based on race.

“I hope we go back to this issue to talk about some of the inequities that happened during those demonstrations,” an Oakland resident said at a recent City Council meeting.

“One of the questions I get about this from constituents is, where are the police to fight crime when they’re being redeployed to demonstrations,” said Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan. She also suggested that the city “look at bringing civil enforcement actions against those who engage in destruction…so that we can sue them civilly for the costs” of the damage they’ve caused.

Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee and one of the Black Friday 14, agrees that “For that report to mean something or to be able to be utilized by community, it would need to be disaggregated by race.”

“What I’m betting that we’re going to find is that the vast majority of folks that had charges actually brought against them were people of color,” Brooks said.

“If you look at the Black Friday 14, an all-Black planned and executed action – we are being prosecuted, and they’re refusing to drop the charges and pushing the issue,” Brooks continued.

“Whereas, we knew before this report that there were protesters who utilized a diversity of tactics that resulted in property damage etc., who were also white, who are being released with a slap on the wrist,” she said.

“It just continues the conversation about the racial disparity and inequity in Oakland,” Brooks said.

The concerns of local business owners were also raised at the City Council meeting, including those whose establishments were damaged during protests. One of the cases reported by OPD involved an individual charged with vandalism, the report shows.

“What this shows is that there were a couple dozen criminals who committed violent acts against either fellow residents or small businesses and were arrested, and some will be prosecuted,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb.

He continued: “That’s how it should be, in contrast to the 97 or 98 percent of legitimate protesters who were marching passionately with a very righteous and very important message to share. I just want to highlight that dichotomy because it’s very important that we continue to acknowledge that.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)