Oakland Police Department (OPD) officers detained and handcuffed two volunteers last Saturday who were maintaining a freshwater supply for a large community of unhoused residents that live near Wood Street in West Oakland for possession of a stolen vehicle, but let them go after approximately five minutes when they determined the vehicle wasn’t stolen.
Cassidy Taylor, one of the volunteers OPD detained, says she feels at least one of the four officers present recognized her, and that their actions were in retaliation.
“He definitely recognized me. I feel like I was targeted. The police know that we’re trying to build links with the community and that we have a history of resisting attempts to evict homeless folks. I think they want to antagonize us because of that,” said Taylor.
A video of Taylor’s detainment shows one officer not wearing a mask while handcuffing her. In an email to The Oakland Post, OPD confirmed that officers not wearing a face covering while “engaged in essential government functions…where the public is present or likely to be” violates an Alameda County Health Official Order that, since April 17, the department has committed to upholding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While OPD did not say whether or not the officer would face consequences for violating the order, they did say “The incident has been forwarded to our Internal Affairs Division.”
OPD has tested over 330 of its over 700 officers. In a press release published on May 19, OPD announced that “In the evening of May 18, the Oakland Police Department had their 4th reported case where a member tested positive for COVID-19.” A May 20 press release confirmed a 5th officer tested positive. Both officers are currently in quarantine.
Taylor is a member of the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD), a group that provides survival and life enrichment services for unhoused Wood Street residents while advocating and protesting for the city of Oakland to provide permanent housing for all its residents.
UFAD has constructed and maintained three water tanks and seven hand washing stations in the area. A separate volunteer organization, the Berkeley Free Clinic (BFC), has installed and maintained four handwashing stations and one water barrel near Wood Street.
Although the city of Oakland has arranged for a nonprofit, Lava Mae, to provide showers to unhoused residents in the area on Thursdays, daily use of water comes largely from UFAD’s and BFC’s resources, resources the city isn’t providing.
UFAD’s work means they’re at the site often. Dale Smith, who’s worked with UFAD for over a year and is on or near Wood Street at least three to four times a week says he sees police there every time he’s on-site, “a noticeable increase” from before shelter in place, when he says he’d only see them sometimes on Wood Street, as opposed to now, when he sees them just west of Wood Street, closer to where more people live.
“I see them driving kind of recklessly down [the site’s] dirt roads” said Smith.
Smith expressed concern about this way of driving because he says people live right next to the site’s dirt roads, and reckless driving puts residents in danger.
In a May 17 press release, OPD said “The Department has increased its presence in West Oakland as a result of challenges with crimes. Residents have continued to voice concerns about criminal activity in [the Wood Street] area including shootings, assaults, sale and use of narcotics. Within the last two months, eight stolen vehicles have been recovered from [the Wood Street] area.”
Jesse Parker, a long term unhoused resident of Wood Street and lifelong Oakland resident expressed concern about the increased police presence.
“[The increased police presence] doesn’t feel good at all. They’re taking the wrong people to jail. You got a couple [officers] wearing masks but the rest of them don’t,” said Parker.
OPD said they’ve arrested five people for possession of the stolen vehicle in the last two months. One of the five arrested told the Oakland Post they didn’t steal but only temporarily sought shelter inside the vehicle they were arrested for stealing. Since the vehicle wasn’t running they said they assumed it was abandoned.
On May 18, Taylor and over a dozen members of the UFAD as well as unhoused Wood Street residents, protested OPD’s increased presence at Wood Street.
“I think [police] were [at Wood Street] to intimidate us…because we’re not just building handwashing stations for our homeless, we’re building people power. We’re building a future for people where they can determine their own lives,” said Taylor at the protest outside of Oakland’s City Hall.