An open letter from the head of the Oakland police officers’ union criticizing city leaders for their handling of recent protests is raising questions about how officers will ensure public safety while at the same time guaranteeing the public’s constitutional right to protest.
The Aug. 20 letter, called “Where is the Plan?” was addressed to the mayor and the City Council and signed by Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association.
“This past weekend saw chaos on the streets of Oakland. Friday night a protest turned violent injuring Oakland Police officers; Saturday saw hundreds of Oakland Police officers deployed at the Port of Oakland; and Sunday protesters at the Port were replaced by cars conducting a ‘sideshow’ that grew so large it blocked the Bay Bridge toll plaza,” Donelan wrote, specifically criticizing the police chief who praised the handling of the events.
“Oakland needs elected leaders and command staff that lead,” he wrote.
He said that last Friday evening’s protest was a “Hate the Police” march through downtown Oakland that resulted in officers being sprayed with “bear mace” and injured.
“We will always defend the right of all citizens to protest peacefully. But this weekend was anything but peaceful,” Donelan continued. “And we worry that more violence on Oakland’s streets will eventually lead to further serious injury or death.”
Several candidates for mayor discussed the issues raised in Donelan’s open letter, though Mayor Jean Quan, Joe Tuman, Councilmember Libby Schaaf and Courtney Ruby failed to respond to the Oakland Post by press time.
Jason “Shake” Anderson is calling on city leaders and other community leaders to hold a “summit” with the police chief and Mr. Donelan to address “the current tense situation between our citizens and the police.”
Anderson says he is concerned that the police union is going over the heads of the mayor and the police chief, effectively saying that officers cannot guarantee the safety of the public. The time to deal with the issues is before people get hurt, he said.
Anderson is concerned about how the police will respond to protests that are sure to occur when police departments from around the country participate in the “Urban Shield” SWAT team training weapons expo Sept. 4 – Sept. 8 at the downtown Oakland Marriott.
“I think it is irresponsible for leaders to call themselves leaders and not do something before something goes wrong,” he said. “We should not just be reactive – we should be proactive.”
Agreeing with Anderson’s call for specific strategies, Councilmember and mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan says bringing the “Urban Shield” weapons expo to Oakland is “an insult to all the important work that so many of us are doing to reduce violence” in the city.”
“A wide range of people support efforts to improve the relationship between the community and police,” but “it’s not enough that we have a goal to achieve better community relations, we need real strategies to fight for that,” she said.
Kaplan adds that the city’s 50 percent local hire policy required of companies seeking to bring their business to Oakland should also be required of the Oakland Police Department.
“It’s time for us to practice what we preach,” she said. “Imposing the 50 percent local hire policy for our police department will help strengthen those community ties and make police more effective.”
Civil rights attorney Dan Siegel says he agrees with Donelan “that the city and OPD must have consistent and clear guidelines for police actions during protests.”
“I am concerned about the negative impact on police morale that flows from inconsistent and arbitrary directions to officers,” said Siegel.
Bryan Parker called for an emergency City Council meeting to address the city’s safety crisis.
“City Hall’s continued failure to act with urgency and address our safety crisis is underscored by the consistent lack of leadership from those in City Hall who seemingly spend more time campaigning to be Mayor than they do governing towards a safe city,” he said.
“We need more officers now,” Parker continued, insisting on sensitivity training and the protection of civil rights at all costs.