Occupy Violence Reignites Criticism Of Oakland Police

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Clashes between police and Occupy Wall Street protesters in Oakland, Calif., made news this week. But the violence has less to do with the Occupy movement than with the long history of law enforcement troubles in that city.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep are away. In Oakland, California, protestors with the Occupy Wall Street movement continue to stand vigil in a downtown plaza in front of City Hall. This week, police fired teargas and bean bags at protestors. The incident is under investigation, and NPR's Carrie Kahn reports that the confrontation has reignited criticism of the Oakland police.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In the downtown park in front of City Hall, the protestors have changed their tune.


KAHN: The chanting is more about ending police brutality than stopping Wall Street's greed. Hundreds turned out last night for a vigil for one protestor who remains hospitalized after being struck in the head by a non-lethal projectile. Civil rights lawyer John Buriss says the police have no one to blame but themselves for the change in message.

JOHN BURISS: You really caused the whole atmosphere to change from Wall Street to the police, and in Oakland, that's a very big deal.

KAHN: Buriss says resentment for the police in Oakland lies close to the surface.

BURISS: There has been a long history of clashes between the community and the police here going back to the Black Panther days.

KAHN: More recently there was the scandal in 2000 where four officers known as the Riders allegedly entrapped suspects and beat them. In 2003, the department took a lot of heat over its handling of an anti-war protest. Buriss reached a settlement over that case with the Oakland Police to reform how the department handles crowds, and a federal monitor was appointed to oversee changes in other policies in the wake of the Riders case. Buriss says so many resources have gone into trying to reform Oakland Police, but he asks now, was it just a waste of time?

BURISS: Have we just spent all this money and given all this time, and at the end of the day the department reverts back to sort the out-of-control conduct that they were involved in?

KAHN: Buriss says in light of Tuesday's events, it may be time for increased federal oversight of the department. Earlier this week, interim police chief Howard Jordan said he will fully investigate all allegations of excessive force, but Jordan stressed that protestors pelted his officers with paint, bottles, and other objects. Jordan has only has the top job for a few weeks. He took over after Chief Anthony Batts resigned earlier this month.

Jordan is the fourth chief of police in Oakland in the past 10 years. He did not respond to repeated interview requests Thursday. Dom Arotzarena, president of the local police union, says officers alone are taking the heat for what happened Tuesday night.

DOM AROTZARENA PRESIDENT, OAKLAND POLICE UNION: The police officers are being told what to do. It's not like they're going out acting alone. This was a major operation. We were directed to do this.

KAHN: Mayor Jean Quan told reporters earlier in the week that she had limited input into the police action. She too did not respond to repeated interview requests yesterday. However, late Thursday night, Quan issued a statement to protestors. She apologized for what happened to them, and said responsibility was ultimately hers. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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