Tuesday, November 1, 2011

UPDATED: An Open Letter To The Oakland Police Officers' Association

*Please see UPDATE as of 11/5 at the end of this article.

This is in response to your Open Letter to the Citizens of Oakland

Dear Oakland Police Officers,

I am not a resident of Oakland, so your letter wasn't addressed specifically to me, but as a citizen of this country, even things that don't happen in my immediate community affect me in myriad ways. I was and am very angry at what I witnessed (from my admittedly distant perspective), of the events that unfolded on Tuesday, October 25th, so I would like to take this opportunity to respond to your letter.

You told me a little about yourselves, so let me tell you a little about myself. I am a resident of Redondo Beach, California, having lived here since 1994. But I don't just dwell here, I am active in my community here. In addition to becoming trained to respond to emergencies in the absence of police and fire personnel through the Community Emergency Response Team program (in three communities, actually), one of the other ways I have participated is by taking the 13-week Citizen Police Academy training course, through which I gained "a working knowledge of the police department, along with the roles and responsibilities of its police officers," and received training in:
  • S.W.A.T.
  • Traffic Enforcement
  • Criminal Investigations
  • Police Patrol & Ride-Along
  • K-9 Demonstrations
  • Gangs
  • Vice & Narcotics
  • Community Relations (COPPS)
  • Crime Scene Investigations
  • Firearms and the Police Range
  • Police Dispatch & Communications
  • Pier & Harbor Patrol
  • The Jail & Justice System

This is me at the police firing range:

I'm not too bad a shot, either (this guy might not have been killed, but he'd definitely have been down!):

I tell you all of this so that you will know I am coming from a place not only of respect and admiration for the thankless job you put your lives on the line to do for your community every day, but that I am at least moderately familiar with many of the responsibilities that that job entails.

That said, I am outraged by the behavior of your officers and those of the other departments who assisted you that night. This excuse that you were "just following orders" is offensive in the extreme. I don't think I have to remind you where and why that phrase became popularized. The only people responsible for the way those horrific events unfolded are the people who committed those acts.

I think Mayor Quan's behavior in this debacle is an utter disgrace. She should not have left town that night, for whatever reason she left. She had a responsibility to be on hand to ensure her instructions were carried out properly and legally. She also had no business holding onto thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment and supplies that were taken from the camps by your officers, and not returning them until the owners of that property threatened to "occupy" her office. If I were a resident there, I'd be calling for her to step down immediately. It is clear to me that she is incapable of performing one of the most critical duties she was sworn in to do.

But that does not absolve your officers.

I don't believe for a moment that it was Mayor Quan who gave the order to throw tear gas canisters, or shoot rubber bullets, or lob flash-bang devices directly at people! And I know from having read your own Crowd Control and Crowd Management Policy that:

  • "Direct Fired SIM may never be used indiscriminately against a crowd or group of persons even if some members of the crowd or group are violent or disruptive."

And that:

  • "Members shall only deploy Direct Fired SIM during a demonstration or crowd event under the direction of a supervisor."

So there must have been someone on the ground giving those orders, and that would not have been Mayor Quan who was thousands of miles away, hiding in Washington, DC. So please stop trying to pass the buck. And please don't try to tell me that those things didn't happen, either. There is ample video and photographic evidence to dispute any such assertion.

And then, to add insult to actual injury, there's this:
  • "Any person struck by a round shall be transported to a hospital for observation and any necessary treatment. Ambulance service, if required, shall be ordered per General Order I-4. First aid, when necessary, shall be administered per Training Bulletin III-K."

Would any of your officers care to explain why at least two dozen men (and possibly women) in uniform stood around and did nothing to come to the aid of felled Marine, Scott Olsen? Or why in the name of all that is holy, at least two individuals in your ranks lobbed flash-bang devices directly into the group that did rush to his aid? And why they ultimately allowed protesters to be the ones who had to transport Olsen to a hospital? Who knows how much of the current damage to his brain might have been avoided or mitigated had he been transported by paramedics trained and equipped to move someone with a head injury! That your people abdicated their responsibility here is simply unconscionable.

I'm terribly sorry if all this confuses you.

Having been "fully aware that past protests in Oakland have resulted in rioting, violence and destruction of property," you should also have been aware of a $2 million judgment against the city of Oakland in a class action suit that arose from your officers using the same or similar tactics during another protest. How could you not be; it resulted in a change in policy wherein Oakland police agreed to "no longer indiscriminately use wooden or rubber bullets, Taser stun guns, pepper spray and motorcycles to break up crowds."

I fail to see where the confusion lies. Seems like pretty clear-cut and straight-forward policy to me.

Which was violated.

As to your "confusion" over first being told to break up the camps then the camps being allowed to return, I find this both odd and disturbing. As officers of the law, I expect that you know that often when citizens lodge complaints and those complaints are reviewed (and probably a few attorneys weigh in), decisions are sometimes reversed. This cannot be something new to you. Or would you prefer that when the city learns they were wrong to have taken a certain action, that they not take steps to reverse that action?

And if you're still confused as to how you're supposed to deal with apparently conflicting messages from City Hall, might I suggest that you do one of three things:

  • Take it up the chain of command and seek clarification from a superior.
  • Follow the policies in your policy manual to the letter (just to be on the safe side of your "confusion").
  • Be a "conscientious objector" and lay down your weapons.

Whatever the city's "intentions" are by both encouraging the general strike and at the same time reinforcing the police to stand against the protesters, that is not really your concern as it pertains to you doing your job both professionally and morally. Your complaints are actually political.

Therefore I suggest that you should, as individuals and citizens, join the petition to demand Mayor Quan step down. You can also make phone calls to your city council members and voice your objections. In short, you have exactly the same recourse as the rest of us. Actually, I think you know this already, seeing as how some of your officers appear to have participated as citizens in the protests themselves. Or was that really the reason they were there?

What you shouldn't do is plead "confusion" and think that'll earn you a pass. It's pathetic that you would come whining to the public, looking for sympathy as a way to absolve yourself of your bad acts and egregious abdication of your duties as peace officers.

I respectfully ask that you join us in opposing the thwarting of your fellow citizens' freedom of speech and lawful protest.

Thank you for listening.

P.S. Not that there's anything you can do about it, but you might consider looking at how some of your brothers and sisters in uniform are talking about the man you put in the hospital in a coma with a brain injury. If you'd really like the general public to sympathize with you, consider condemning that type of slander against a man who served this country in two tours in Iraq.

And just so you don't forget:

*11/5 UPDATE: A second veteran of the Iraq war is in intensive care, apparently at the hands of your officers. Kayvan Sabeghi was brutally beaten with nightsticks on his way home from dinner in the vicinity of where the protests were occurring late Wednesday night.

While details cannot be corroborated at this time, what we do know is that Sabeghi appears on the list at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, as one of the people arrested that night. He spent somewhere between 18 – 24 hours in custody, after which he found himself in the emergency room needing a 2 hour surgery due to a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding. He, too, is now in intensive care.

So let me guess ... your officers beat him this severely because ... they were confused. Do I have that right?

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank


  1. This is the most moving thing I've read in months. Tweeted, hope some of my followers do, also.

    THANK YOU for writing this.

    You speak for me.

    Angie in WA State

  2. what a awesome blog.. I think you speak for alot of us.. thanks

  3. Thank you so much, everyone.

  4. An interesting post, loved your links, but I don't understand (and you may have explained it elsewhere) why your calling for Quan to resign. The police force has been openly antagonistic to her for years (even before she was mayor), and it seems like they're using this to gain political points. She's the first Asian-American woman to be mayor of a big city in the US, and I think she's being unfairly criticized. Compare that with how Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago is being treated by the media (although to be fair, there is no awful video of Chicago cops beating protesters, but that's only because it's a felony to photograph or make audio and/or video recordings of police officers on the job in the city).

  5. Melas, since I don't live in Oakland, my opinion about the resignation or recall of Mayor Quan is pretty irrelevant (who am I to say, really?). However, as an opinionated broad, and as it relates only to this issue, I think she made a series of Very Bad Calls.

    Not to mention the fact that she set up what any fool could see would be a gigantic clusterfuck, then hightailed it out of town to avoid confrontation.

    Then, after having confiscated thousands of dollars in medical equipment and supplies from the Occupy protesters, it took them having to threaten to "occupy" her office before she gave them back! I, frankly, think that's outrageous.

    As for Emmanuel, he can pound dirt, too, as far as I'm concerned.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to post your comments!

  6. You Go Girl the Movement is getting Stronger & Growing

  7. Really great post. The only thing is--i don't think Mayor Quan should step down. The police has been butting heads with Quan for months. (They're also the only union in town that refused to make any concessions while everyone else was making sacrifices to meet the city's budget deficit.) She voted against them on several measures, and I wouldn't be surprised if they set her up to fail on this occasion. She can't fight back without looking petty. And the letter they wrote was pretty petty and disingenuous, as your post so brilliantly exposed. Thanks for writing.

  8. Thank you for your comments, Khanh Pham. I respect your admiration for Mayor Quan. As a non-resident I am not familiar with her record otherwise, but based on her handling of this situation, were I a resident, I'd be calling for her head on a platter.

    I don't think it's possible for the police to have set her up to leave town and avoid the conflict instead of sticking around to oversee that the orders she did give were being carried out properly and legally.

    I also don't think it's possible for them to have set her up to hold onto confiscated personal belongings and not willingly return them until there was a threat of sending hundreds of protesters into her office.

    But that's just me. Reasonable people — and certainly people who actually live there — may certainly disagree.


I welcome your comments and look forward to what you have to say. Thanks for reading!