This is not over, say local leaders — pledging not to let the city officials and Oakland Police Department (OPD) off the hook as they seek answers for the recent arrest of former City Councilmember and community elder Wilson Riles Jr., who was visiting the city zoning office when he was tripped to the ground by four police officers, handcuffed and taken in a paddy wagon to Santa Rita Jail.
“I’m very troubled with how Wilson Riles was treated and glad we were able to help advocate to get the charges dropped,” said Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Council presiden, in a statement to the Oakland Post.
“But the questions are not over, and we need to ensure that the heavy handed, over-policing of Black people is ended,” said Kaplan. “This incident also reinforces that it is important to have independent police oversight with the authority to provide real change —and why it is vital that the response to minor disagreements should not be to call the police.”
Riles, who is 73 years old and served on the Oakland City Council from 1979 to 1992, had gone to the city zoning office on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 17 to discuss an ongoing dispute he and his family have had with the Zoning Department.
A zoning office staff member called 911, and when Riles was leaving the office at about 9 a.m., he was blocked by the officers, not informed that he was being arrested, knocked down, injured and charged with battery on a police officer. He was released near midnight after posting a $20,000 bond.
Charges against Riles have been dropped. The city has announced that OPD will conduct an internal affairs investigation of the incident. Riles has filed a complaint with the Police Commission, which will also hold an investigation.
At a meeting last Thursday of the Police Commission, where Riles and some of his supporters spoke, Commission chair Regina Jackson called his arrest a “travesty.”
“No one should have that kind of treatment for an argument,” she said.
Rashidah Grinage, a leader of Oakland Coalition for Police Accountability, criticized the conduct of the police and held Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth for the attitude toward the public of people working in city departments.
“The police should not have called” by city staff simply because Riles was arguing with a city staffer,” she said.
“There (also) does not seem to be any justification for the use of the force by the officer. Considering his age and that he was unarmed, the officers did not have to throw him down on the floor with that use of force.”
City staff is not getting adequate direction from higher ups, she said. “Somebody needs to hold City Administrator Sabrina Landreth accountable for this. All these departments (including the police department) are under her supervision. She has failed to provide appropriate direction to her staff.”
Landreth does not hold an elective office but is hired by and reports to Mayor Schaaf, “who is ultimately responsible,” Grinage said.
The larger issue facing OPD is that federal oversight has been going on for approaching 17 years, but the department is still not able to function in a way that is “racially equitable” and “constitutional,” she said.
“This police chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, has not brought the department into compliance or closer to compliance,” Grinage said “She has brought it farther from compliance. That’s why, earlier this year, we urged the federal monitor to fire her.”
Cat Brooks, activist and journalist, said she views Riles as a “statesman who has dedicated his life, in office and out, to fighting for the people.”
“This is the kind of treatment that Black people face every day in this city, in every city, every day,” she said. “Nobody’s public safety was secured by this act.”
The letter that the city put out about the incident talked about protecting the safety of city employees, she said, but “The city employee was never in danger. They don’t like to be challenged. They want you to be compliant.”
“(City employees) know exactly what would happen when they pushed a button or called police in a city department,” she said. “When they say danger, they know it will elicit a particular response from law enforcement.
“They have to be held accountable for that. You don’t get to mobilize law enforcement because you’re irritated.”