Oakland—Despite claims by Oakland Police (OPD) and city officials that law enforcement used restraint during last Thursday’s protests following the Johannes Mehserle verdict, details emerging paint a very different picture. Police used excessive force against a largely peaceful protest, violently attacking a number of people. Police arrested many demonstrators who had done nothing wrong, and then held them in jail through the night and in some cases through the weekend and beyond.
Among those arrested were NLGSF member, and prominent Oakland attorney, Walter Riley. “Thursday’s law enforcement conduct must be investigated. The police were provocative and seemed determined to instigate violence, which of course, served their police contract negotiations with Oakland at a time when they are facing layoffs of 80 officers,” said Riley. “In the organized rally where protesters, including me, were helping to ensure peaceful protest, the police helped to perpetuate a narrative of violence by allowing a small number of people to vandalize businesses when they could have stopped it.”
Also arrested were Oakland School Board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, 69-year-old former school principal Susan Harman, journalists and legal observers. Many of the arrestees were seriously injured by the police, including a handful who were taken to the hospital from the scene and at least one individual who was denied medication, causing a potentially life threatening situation to an elderly member of the community.
“Last Thursday a court in Los Angeles sent a disgraceful message about police violence, and that message was reinforced by the conduct of Oakland Police and other law enforcement Thursday evening,” said Carlos Villarreal, NLGSF Executive Director. “OPD and outside agencies brought in as reinforcement used overwhelming force on a largely nonviolent assembly, sweeping up lawyers, legal observers, journalists and community members, and seriously injuring a number of individuals.”
Several years ago the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU obtained a $2 million settlement in a lawsuit over OPD brutality toward demonstrators, and at that time OPD adopted new crowd control policies designed to safeguard freedom of speech in just this sort of volatile situation.
“If OPD had followed its own crowd control policies, the injuries would have been avoided," explained NLGSF attorney Rachel Lederman. "The aggressive use of police formations, baton beatings and indiscriminate arrests were unnecessary and violated people's constitutional right to protest. To make things even worse, OPD violated state law by jailing people for long periods of time who had been arrested for very minor offenses.”
The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) condemns the police abuse by OPD and other law enforcement on the scene and is investigating possible legal action. The NLGSF is a human rights bar association founded in 1937 with hundreds of members throughout the Bay Area. Find out more at http://www.nlgsf.org