Shoot 'em, boys

Poor cop deportment at the Oakland Port

The Oakland Police Department dealt with anti-war protesters this spring with the same brutal force it visits upon Oakland residents every day. The mainstream media widely reported an incident in which police fired “less than lethal” ammunition — shotgun bean bag rounds, wooden bullets and concussion grenades — at non-violent demonstrators. But the media ignored an earlier incident in which a phalanx of motorcycle cops rode directly into anti-war high school students marching in downtown Oakland, running over several students. And the media routinely ignores Oakland police violence against Oakland’s ordinary citizens.

Even when a spectacular case of police brutality surfaces — like the Riders scandal in which four officers framed over a hundred suspects, requiring Oakland to pay out $10 million in legal settlements — the media depicts it as an isolated incident. In fact, police corruption and violence is rampant in Oakland and other large cities. When more middle-class war protesters are the victims, it gets some press — when the victims are poor or non-white, the media turns the other way.

Below we’ve reprinted exerpts from public testimony given by Oakland resident Scott Fleming, who was shot five times with wooden bullets (4 in the back) while protesting the war on Iraq at the Port of Oakland. We need to struggle against police violence whether its against political demonstrators or the just regular folks.

“On the morning of April 7, a number of protesters gathered at the port and set up peaceful pickets in front of a handful of shipping lines. The protesters were doing nothing more than carrying signs and walking in circles. There was a brass band there which helped create what can only be described as a festive atmosphere. There were a number of middle-aged and senior citizens in the crowd. There was nothing about the tone of the protest or the actions of the protesters that could have led the Oakland Police Department to fear violence or confrontation.

“Nevertheless, when the police arrived on the scene, all of them were wearing gas masks, and a number of them were armed with what we later learned were wooden bullets, beanbag-firing shotguns, and grenades. I have been to countless demonstrations over the years, and I cannot recall a single instance in which any Bay Area police agency has displayed these kinds of weapons or worn gas masks to a political demonstration. I can only surmise that the Oakland Police Department would not have arrived at the demonstration with this type of weaponry unless they had a pre-planned intent to use it.

“The officers lined up on Middle Harbor Road in front of the entrance to American Presidents Line. When they ordered the demonstrators to clear the intersection, the demonstrators complied and the entrance was cleared. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for the demonstrators to go after they cleared the intersection. By blocking Middle Harbor Road, the police denied the demonstrators the nearest and most direct route to leave the port.

“As the crowd milled about, it seemed that nobody knew what to do or where to go. Many of the protesters, including myself, had never been to the port before and were unfamiliar with the geography there.

“After a few minutes, and for no obvious or apparent reason, the morning quiet was pierced by explosions as the Oakland Police Department opened fire on the crowd. Neither I nor anyone else I have spoken to is aware of any act on the part of any demonstrator that could have provoked this violence.

“From this point on, the Oakland Police Department swept down Middle Harbor Road and Maritime Street firing repeated barrages, over and over again, into the crowd. They fired on the crowd for approximately an hour and a half to two hours as they pursued us for more than a mile. For much of this time, the Oakland Police Department repeatedly drove a line of large police motorcycles into the crowd.

“The munitions used upon us, especially the wooden and beanbag bullets, are extremely dangerous weapons, which was evidenced by the severity of the injuries that day. As we continued down the road, more and more people in the crowd were bleeding and bruised. A law student who was clearly identified as a legal observer by a bright green armband was shot in the head and had blood pouring down his face. A man who works as an environmental engineer for a federal agency was shot in the face and looked to me as if part of his nose was missing. I am told that one woman had tire tracks up her leg after being run down by a motorcycle officer. And [many of us have] seen the sickening and grotesque photograph of Sri Louise, the woman who was shot in the jaw and neck.

“I want to make clear that the use of these types of weapons against peaceful protesters is unacceptable under any circumstances. However, it is also clear that the severity of the injuries we saw that day was significantly increased because the Oakland Police Department disregarded the manufacturers safety warnings and misused these weapons. For example, we recovered a shell casing used to fire wooden bullets. The casing indicated that it was manufactured by Federal Laboratories in Casper, Wyoming, and fires 264W wooden baton rounds. The casing includes a very clear warning, which states: ‘Do not fire directly at persons or serious injury or death may result.’ The warning then admonishes officers to fire the weapons at the ground, from which they are intended to ricochet into peoples’ legs.

“The fact that so many people that day received injuries to their heads, arms, and torsos strongly indicates that the officers were not firing these weapons as the manufacturers intended. The fact that so many people, like myself, were shot in the back, underscores the fact that the Oakland Police Department was firing on people who were running away. As reported by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the manufacturer’s training manual states that, ‘when firing wooden bullets, areas such as the head, neck, spine, and groin . . . should be avoided unless it is the intent to deliver deadly force.’

“Oakland Police Departmental General Order K-3, governing the use of force, similarly requires officers to avoid firing these weapons at these areas of the body. According to the Department’s use of force policy, beanbag (and presumably wooden) bullets are classified as the second most severe use of force in the police arsenal, second only to firearms. In fact, these weapons are classified as being more severe than a police canine bite. Therefore, according to the stated policy of the Oakland Police Department, if the police had been justified on April 7 in shooting us with wooden bullets, they would also have been justified in unleashing police dogs on the crowd. I think we all know exactly which images that evokes, and we all know exactly how wrong that would have been.

“Word told the Contra Costa Times that his decision to shoot at us was influenced by one of the shipping lines. According to the Times, Chief Word said that ‘APL told us, ‘You have to clear the property.’ This sounds frighteningly like Chief Word allowed American Presidents Line to assist him in deciding when to use force against the citizens of Oakland.”