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Occupy Oakland, Permitted Protest, and Police Repression
by Mike King, Counterpunch
Monday Apr 23rd, 2012 2:19 PM
April 17, 2012

The State Will Never Protect Those They Are at War With

Occupy Oakland, Permitted Protest, and Police Repression


As the Occupy movement around the country begins to get more involved in immigrant struggles, or around the struggles of people of color more generally, complicated questions of race and risk, tactics and differential legal consequences for people of color are arising. These are complicated questions that are not new, and certainly have no clear or easy answer. This May 1st in Oakland, the main May Day march is being organized by the Coalition for Dignity and Resistance, which is comprised mainly of various immigrants’ rights groups and some people from Occupy Oakland. They are planning a permitted march from the Fruitvale neighborhood in East Oakland to Oscar Grant Plaza, with a permitted event at the Plaza. It should be noted that this has been the march route every year for the last 6 years, and it has always been permitted, in an effort to provide a safe space for undocumented immigrants to protest. Nevertheless, there was a highly contentious debate around permits in Occupy Oakland for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that the last time a permit was taken out in the Plaza (again, without Occupy Oakland’s approval) it led to targeted raids on people in the Plaza for violating the stringent terms of the permit. These reasons were made clear to the coalition and Occupy Oakland has never supported any permits in OG Plaza. The concerns on both sides are completely legitimate. The question that has arisen and has yet to be adequately answered is, “How do we come together, from different experiences, identities and politics, and work together in a way that is mutually respectful without sacrificing core commitments to our respective movements?” Personalizing these differences is not constructive. These are hard questions. How do we provide security for people in our movements? What is security? How can militant direct action take place in a way that doesn’t turn vulnerable populations into police targets?

In the often muddy overlap between race and political position, it is easy to essentialize. For white radicals this can mean drawing a political line around not granting the State legitimacy by asking permission to protest, a position I generally agree with, but one that admittedly glosses over, at times, the differential policing and legal treatment of people of color, the undocumented in particular. For organizers of color, taking the most ignorant arguments of individual white protesters as representative of all white protesters is a way of avoiding political discussion. Insinuating that the legitimate concerns about permits, and their negative consequences for Occuppiers, Occupiers of color in particular, is ultra-leftist or dismissive of communities of color itself glosses serious issues of race and police power. The crux of the matter is far more complicated.

Police, Permits and Vulnerability in Context

Oakland’s recent history of permitted events in Occupy Oakland and the earlier Oscar Grant movement should inform this discussion. In the Oscar Grant movement, multi-racial street militancy resulted in young black men facing serious charges, while white protesters largely saw their charges dropped. A legitimate debate arose in the movement, which I never felt was adequately addressed, around what we should do about this. Many black organizers pointed to the contradiction that a movement oriented towards ending police targeting of communities of color, was leading to the incarceration of more people of color. Most of the white street militants never really engaged this debate. The response was largely that white anti-capitalists don’t have any control over what the police do and we must respect a diversity of tactics. Here we had a shining example of how the “non-violent” position and the “diversity of tactics” position both missed the mark completely and people in the movement simply talked past each other, or never really engaged in the discussion. The march on November 5, 2010, after the sentencing of Johannes Mehserle, was permitted to try to create a safe place for people of color to protest. The police revoked the permit at the last minute and, when we marched anyway, arrested over 150 people in mass arrests, a large number of whom were people of color. The movement faded and the lessons were only learned by a small number of people. Talking past each other, or essentializing each other, failing to address each other’s legitimate concerns amidst political difference, on political terms, will keep us repeating these mistakes.

Looking at the history of the immigrants rights movement and the young Occupy movement shows that while seeking protection through permits often does not work, hiding behind a diversity of tactics doesn’t work either. I hope we have it in us to develop a praxis around security that seriously questions permits but also dispenses with the philosophy of “anything goes.” The same State that wants to see us all gone will never deal with us in an even-handed way. This doesn’t mean that concerns about security are liberal or that they should be dismissed. How do we come to terms with this? How do we attempt to provide security, without that security being at the whim of a police force, city government and a system of law, that wishes us harm and that we all oppose? I’m not saying I have the answer, but I think collectively we could find one. Or make one.

Occupy Oakland has never taken out a permit for any event. However a small group did take out a permit for Oscar Grant Plaza without the endorsement of Occupy Oakland. Although the permit would have ostensibly allowed people to safely maintain a presence in the park, without police harassment, this turned out to be far from reality. The permit was used in a series of late night raids on the Plaza in late-December, and into January. People were arrested for possession of a blanket, sleeping on benches, and other petty infractions that were violations of the permit, but otherwise legal. Instead of keeping the police out, the permit invited them in. One man, Kali (Marcel Johnson), was arrested for possessing a blanket, denied psych medication in jail, and is now being charged with assaulting a corrections officer. All of this started with increased and targeted policing around the enforcement of the permit. Over 40 people were arrested in these raids, many charged with trumped-up felonies. They were disproportionately people of color, particularly those facing serious charges. These two examples clearly show how, in Oakland in the last few years, permits have not kept vulnerable populations safe. In fact, permits have been used as an effective weapon against the social movements that have pursued them, particularly targeting people of color in those movements.

The Myth of Effective, “Sanctioned Non-Violence”

The strength of any movement, regardless of tactics, is its ability to disrupt the smooth functioning of the existing order. A key way that the police have sought to contain protest movements for the last four decades is through the normalization of permits. I was interviewed by Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco chronicle in the lead-up to the December 12, 2011 West Coast Port Shutdown. His questions and the article he wrote centered around, “how do we get protesters to obey police orders and peacefully submit to arrests like they did in the 60s?” He kept asking, “How can we have good relations between the police and protesters like we had in the 60s?” My head filled with images of Fred Hampton’s apartment, police dogs, FBI surveillance and political prisoners. What Fagan and his quoted police sources were alluding to, the “good, permitted, obedient” protesters of the early Civil Rights movement, is a complete historical farce. People were non-violent, people did submit to arrest, but within a very explicit strategy of taking personal risk in mostly un-permitted civil disobedience designed to expose the violence inherent in the existing order. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Letter From Birmingham Jail” while being held for protesting without a permit. His words in that letter reflect his pacifist position on the law, permits, and social change very clearly:

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

There were no “free speech zones” at Civil Rights protests in part because of the overtly racist nature of the State, but also because a large part of the point was that people don’t need to ask for free speech, they have it inherently already. The attempts to suppress that free speech laid bare the bankruptcy of the Jim Crow South in a strategic way that advanced the movement. King makes clear that that was the strategy. The norms of permitted marches, and non-violent civil disobedience coordinated with police came years later, as police sought to prevent disruptive tactics, whether they be militant or pacifist. Through negotiated management the police were able to take personal risk out of the equation and obtain undue influence over social movements, which has consistently deprived many movements of their ability to effectively disrupt everyday life, regardless of the tactics used.

I am not suggesting undocumented immigrants put themselves at further risk, or that permits are a bad idea in all contexts, but we should see them as what they are, and in historical context, and weigh their costs and benefits. Are there ways in which we can keep vulnerable populations safe at protests while not counting on the police to do it for us? Four years ago, there was a large ICE raid the day after the May Day marches in the Bay Area. The community mobilized and responded, which was followed by another ICE raid the following day. These raids did not come at the marches or protests, they came after. By no means can it be argued that the permits led to the raids. It seems likely that they were timed as a means of harassment of the immigrants’ rights movement and a flaunting of the State’s power to target immigrant communities, even within the various sanctuary cities of the Bay Area. While permits are not to blame for ICE’s actions, they cannot provide the type of security they are being pursued to provide.

Occupy Oakland has never sought permits, despite the fact that we also have many people in the movement who are police targets, often racialized police targets. I have already mentioned Kali, who is looking at years in prison. An undocumented Occupier, Francisco “Pancho” Ramos-Stierle, was arrested and eventually released after public outcry. A victory, but not something we should count on in the future. We have had two people of color charged with lynching, for allegedly trying to free themselves from police custody. We have three people, two of them black, facing a hate crime charge after being attacked by a white counter-protester. Kerie Campbell, a single mother, recently had a court take her children away because she took them to Occupy events. We have unconstitutional “stay away” orders on many people from Occupy Oakland, preventing them from attending meetings and protests. We have been and will continue to resist these various repression efforts, which have only been aided by the one permit that was taken out. Another permit in Oscar Grant Plaza will surely compound these problems.

Again, I am not making an argument about militant versus pacifist tactics, but about the efforts we use or don’t use to attempt to protect the people in our movements and the likely outcomes of those efforts. This isn’t an argument to have a “diversity of tactics” march with large numbers of undocumented immigrants. I would not be surprised if we saw a bit of non-strategic militance in Oakland on May Day (away from the march), as we have seen in major Occupy actions in the past. Ironically, the biggest action Occupy Oakland be involved in, on a May Day full of various actions, is mass civil disobedience to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge, in solidarity with workers who are planning to strike that day. This is about effective, strategic disruption on one level, but this critique does not disregard the precariousness of immigrant communities or suggest that everyone should be at risk. It is an understatement to say those same communities are at risk just trying to work and live in this country. More fundamentally this critique is about the inherent problems involved with seeking state-sanctioned tools to protect people that inadvertently turn into highly effective instruments of police repression. We are all in the streets, in large part, because the State is not an arbiter of justice. Entrusting the State with legitimate jurisdiction over our actions does not guarantee security – it guarantees insecurity and future repression.

Mike King is a PhD candidate at UC–Santa Cruz and an East Bay activist, currently writing a dissertation about counter-insurgency against Occupy Oakland. He can be reached at mking(at)ucsc.edu.


Comments  (Hide Comments)

by nonwo
Monday Apr 30th, 2012 2:22 PM
“How do we come together, from different experiences, identities and politics, and work together in a way that is mutually respectful without sacrificing core commitments to our respective movements?” That's a damned simple question and unfortunately brings into question the intelligence and patriotism of the questioner. I'll attempt to say it the way it is.
Unfortunately the combined campaign of the ruling elite and the public fool system has sufficiently dumbed down the populace to shred the supreme law of the land. Any a**hole who can read at the 8th grade level can see all on U.S. soil possess unequivocal fundamental individual rights of free expression. Now free means uninhibited exercise from restrictions such as permits, contracts, self imposed restrictions, fear to freely exercise, etc. Is that so hard to fathom or understand?
"come together" that's easy, when there is a perceived problem and one don't feel they can adequately handle the problem, they simply huddle together.
"different experiences", that's simple, the supreme law of the land is the common denominator and common experience. Any observer can see a problem and wish to seek relief.
"identities and politics", what's so difficult to identify when one is sitting on U.S. soil? What's so difficult to see the politics is about the supreme law of the land?
"work together in a way that is mutually respectful", that's a given, we do that everyday for anyone who works for a living. Either you get along or you're fired. If you respect yourself then you can't miss respecting your family, friends and community. Of course anti-socials don't get your respect.
"without sacrificing core commitments to our respective movements?”, instead of forsaking your core commitment, you ally with other organizations with some common goal(s). To organize and unite is the key to success in a social program. All throughout history all can see armies uniting, organizing, planning and executing. Of course this is a little more difficult to see and comprehend given the interference in pubic fooling system. Therefore, that's how patriots come together.

It is a given all rights endeavoring will be targeted by the ruling elite's blue line. It's always happened in history except for what I've observed the "gay rights" movements. Don't ask me why.

If minorities go along with the state sponsoring of rights denial, it assures their own oppression. Minorities must realize more acutely their absolute necessity to unite. I'm of the strong opinion the Latino will squander their political power in the very near future when they become the majority. They seem to have what I call the plantation mentality, subservient to their white masters. I see the author's agonizing the issue of permits as failing to understand the fundamental law and the degree of oppression already changed the mindset of all U.S. citizens into believing those are not the people's rights. The unlawful overthrow of the people is almost complete. There is no better way than for the people to self police themselves. It would seem the issue is not one of color but does one possess the right of free expression.
The the OG failure was the lack of discussion. No matter what the differences, if there is to be a coalition there must be some common objectives. Those objectives must be identified and shared so a somewhat unified and coordinating plan of action can be implemented.
It's ok to coordinate "anti-capitalist" and control of "paramilitary forces". A common goal can be forged out of these seemingly divergent perspectives. Labor is a factor in free enterprise since capital is ineffective without labor.
I have some concerns over this "non-violent" stance. When the situation escalates to Libyan and Syrian style violence, do we send in wave after wave of people of all stripes to be martyred? When is it appropriate to move onto armed rebellion as was lawfully done in the so-called "Amerikan Revolution"? Do the people have the absolute right to alter and change their government to suit their needs or not? Has anyone read the Declaration of Independence last section? Of course it is advisable and beneficial to remain non-violent as long as possible. There are limits however. Tom Jefferson himself did call for revolution from time to time.
Make no mistake, if this movement is going anywhere it must be sustained for no less than 10yrs. If the paramilitary forces are already ultra violent how much more will the ruling elite crank up this paramilitary force's tyranny over a 10yr. span?
Finally, the author is talking facts in saying the ruling elite and its paramilitary forces will not stand for the people's take back of their rights and further control over the gov't. apparatus.
The author is correct in the priority for security to be dealt with in a realistic manner and the self policing of out of control few who wish to "spoil" it to all and act counter to the agreed norms. A compromise plan for security must be devised in a concerted manner and made adhered to. To do otherwise is a factor for the breakup of unity. At all costs unity must be maintained. Of course there will be spies and provocateurs at play to defeat this unity.
It must be seen that permitting is a way to get the foot in the door. The contract makes it open for the paramilitary forces to make end runs into what would otherwise an absolute right. The thing to remember is never to comprise a right since the ruling elite will always take advantage of the people exercising rights. It turns the exercising rights into a contract w/ the paramilitary having the advantage. Franklin said long ago if one trades a little liberty for safety and protection deserves neither. Yes, at first the paramilitary will break up the exercise but over time the obvious denial of rights will be under more widespread recrimination. The game of cat and mouse will work since we have at least 10yrs. to run on this movement. Then we can employ the judicial system to bear against the paramilitary and their puppeteers.
I want to oppose MLK after his death for using the wrong term in his letter from the Birmingham jail. MLK mistakenly used the term, "privilege" when referring to the 1st amendment. It is anything but a privilege. A privilege is something granted to one and can be taken from one at the whim of the issuer. More, correctly, the term is, "right" not "privilege". "right" means it is God-given and no man can deny you this right. "parading" is not a right and therefore can be regulated. Anyway a permit wouldn't have issued to MLK and others conducting these rights exercise.
The fact that one willingly allows the paramilitary to arrest them is to voluntarily allow himself to be arrested and does not oppose it. "Rights belong to the belligerent claimant in person" is what the law requires.
Undocumented immigrants are vulnerable and put at risk exposing themselves. More creative ways must be developed to add their leverage to the overall movement. The paramilitary forces will always take the advantage to drive a wedge into any unity to break them into ineffective factions.
Hope to see 'ya tomorrow.
by nonwo
Monday Apr 30th, 2012 2:25 PM
comments on reuters re una de mayo
30 Apr.'12
I want to comment on this false claim by a so-called OAK police dept. Where is this police made up claimed "balance the free speech rights of individual protesters with the rights of non-protesting residents," by Jordan/Howard, OAK paramilitary chief?
The real oath Jordan & his criminal accomplices solemnly swore is not about this false & lying about "balance" & "non-protesting". This is not what these lying civil servants swore to, but a false ruse to deny 1st amendment rights of those actually exercising their absolute rights. This is a thinly veiled repression of the people to induce the corrupt judiciary to go alone with state tyranny.
Former Marine and Iraq war veteran, Scott Olsen, was critically injured during a demonstration in October, where are the actual indictments and convictions of the paramilitary perpetrators who intentionally maimed SCott OLsen and his rescuers? These paramilitary forces did intentionally injure and did attempt to thwart the efforts other rights exercising U.S. citizens from removing Olsen from further injury.
Paramilitary forces contrary to their lying claim and avowed duty refused to serve Olsen, injured, by allaying further injury and removal of injured Olsen to safety and undisputedly did the opposite.

Paramilitary (Nazi) tactics is pure brutality and won't stop on its own accord. What is actually happening is the protection of OPD's Nazi tactics and no one seems to be noticing what it actually is
These so-called 3rd parties are mere window dressing to make the ruling elite feel good about themselves and under the smoke screen increase paramilitary oppression not unlike Nazi Germany.
"more manpower to investigations into complaints", the fox guarding the henhouse. Doing things better is code words for more seemingly legal repression to actually limit, chill and eliminate exercise of fundamental rights. This use of the legal weapon also worked well for A. Hitler. His state tyranny was completely legal as it is being followed and perpetrated in all of the U.S., not only in OAK.

"revised its crowd control policies" is code for prevention and denial of constitutionally protected rights. Make no mistake, this paramilitary repression is a well coordinated federally funded and supported to protect the shadow ruling elite from being brought under control of the people.
"stronger ties to the community," that is code for the community against individual rights and for the shadow ruling elite as the "community". The people have absolutely no control over their civil servants and much less over the paramilitary belonging to the shadow ruling elite.
What Quan actually meant, "This commitment to accountability is critical to build the trust necessary for real community policing" is use policing against the people and exempt the rule of law from being equally applied to the rulers and their paramilitary forces.
Thx Ms Johnston and Walsh.