Three developments in these last few days have given pause to those who believe the Oakland Police will remain, as they have for so many decades, untouchable.
The Oakland Police Department has a sordid history going back at least to the 1960's when unremitting police brutality spurred on the formation of the Black Panther Party, one of whose principal goals was the protection of African-American neighborhoods from the police.
For decades officers have ruled the streets of Oakland much as an occupying army (1), willfully ignorant of the Bill of Rights, impervious to the political attacks on their power that wax and wane as City administrations come and go, and able to shrug off multiple assaults by civil rights attorneys -- which end up costing the taxpayers, but not Oakland's Police Department, millions of dollars a year in civil rights settlements.
Even when forced to sign onto agreements ('negotiated settlements') in 2003 and then 2005 which promised drastic reforms in their policies and procedures, they have been able to effectively ignore those court-approved and monitored settlements through into the current decade. The latest but certainly not the only manifestation of this was their handling of Occupy Oakland, in direct violation of both settlement agreements.
What has suddenly happened?
- On October 2nd, Robert Warshaw, the Federal Monitor of the Oakland Police, appointed by Federal District Judge Thelton Henderson to monitor compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement of 2003, released a scathing report on OPD's noncompliance with the agreement and the lack of managerial skill and political will to bring Oakland's police force into compliance. In particular it addressed myriad deficiences in police procedures surrounding officer-involved shootings.
- Thursday, October 4th, Attorneys John Burris, Jim Chanin and Julie Houk filed a brief entitled NOTICE OF, AND MOTION FOR, APPOINTMENT OF A RECEIVER in the case of Allen v City of Oakland. This is the case which, more than a decade ago, led to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement of 2003. In it, using the Federal Monitor's most recent report and the example of the Detroit Police Department being able to substantially comply with a similar settlement agreement in the span of two years -- in contrast to almost ten years of failure on the part of OPD -- they argue that the Oakland Police are incapable of change on their own and that Federal Receivership is the only plausible solution. Oral arguments before Judge Henderson on this motion will take place on December 13th.
- Five months ago, Alan Blueford was killed by an Oakland Police officer, Miguel Masso, who had previously been in the employ of the NYPD where he and two of his fellow officers had tasered, beaten and maced a defenseless detainee in a holding cell.
For four months the Oakland Police had stonewalled the case, going so far as to block the County Coroner from releasing the autopsy report on Alan's death to his family, all the while refusing to release any other information about the circumstances surrounding Alan's death.
Three days ago, after the second disruption of a City Council meeting in a row by the Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition, various police statements, eye-witness accounts, evidence reports and timeline records were released to the Blueford family, then posted on the City of Oakland website (scroll down) for the world to view. (C.f. "Under pressure, Oakland police release Blueford files")
This was an apparently unprecedented move on the part of the Oakland Police. In the past they would likely never have succumbed to the kind of political pressure that was brought to bear by JAB and allies. Coughing up their internal files before their investigation was 'complete', or even in its aftermath, was virtually unheard of. And had they not been desperately trying to stave off Federal Receivership, it probably wouldn't have happened in this case either, despite all the attention the case has received.
The pincers are closing.
But will they close fast enough, and hard enough, or will OPD and the City of Oakland again escape as they have in the past with tongue-lashings and threats from Judge Henderson instead of court orders? And even if the Judge does bring down the gavel and Oakland is forced to accept Federal receivership of its police, will anything really change?
To my mind nothing short of dismissing 90% of the force, then rebuilding it from scratch with the dual goals of building community trust and having officers literate enough to understand the 1st, 4th, 9th and 10th amendments will do. NO amount of training, forced reporting and put-in-place procedures perceived as "bullshit" (as one officer in the Monitor's report was quoted in reference to) will convince the thugs that now roam the streets of Oakland that they cannot, with impunity, violate the civil rights of Oakland's citizens and shoot them at will without consequences.
As one Kossack who recently moved to Oakland put it:
"I just moved to Oakland a few months ago, and have been absolutely
astounded at how riven from any normal reality the police here are.
it's like they inhabit an entirely separate consciousness, or are on
some horrible distorting drugs. they prowl the streets and highways,
armed and dangerous, far more interested in dominance displays than
"serve and protect." they are unaccountable, and they know it. anyone
could become their victim. insane."
(1) Less than 10% of OPD's sworn officers live within the city limits.