Dear Mayor Brown:
I was present throughout the events at the Port yesterday morning. I
witnessed peaceful picketing at two of the three gates being picketed.
No effort was made on the part of demonstrators to commit civil
disobedience. No cars or trucks were prevented from entering, however the
size of the demonstration and possible sympathies of the drivers led all
that I observed to refrain from entering. Absolutely no dock workers made
any effort to enter as they had been advised by union officials to stand
by pending the decision of an arbitrator whether the picketline
constituted a safety hazard. Most trucks either waited in line in the
street or turned around to leave, as did several others in passenger
I watched as police formed their assault lines, declared the
non-violent picket an "unlawful assembly," and advanced on the
demonstrators who pleaded that they had a first amendment right to protest
APL's role as the primary military cargo shipper in the Bay Area.
Most of the pickets abandoned the picketline and stood in the street
chanting when police without provocation opened fire with pepper spray,
stun grenades and wooden and rubber projectiles aimed directly at
protesters. It was perfectly clear that the police had intended to conduct
this kind of violent assault even before they arrived or determined the
intentions of the demonstrators, since they arrived in full riot squad
dress with gas masks already on. This assault was premeditated!
This happened, not once but repeatedly, as the police drove the
protesters out of the Port area into Seventh Street and then continued
firing on them to force them to retreat toward the BART station. The
police continued to use weapons even though the protesters were no long
obstructing access to the APL property and were in fact retreating.
Evidence to support this is obvious. Many of the wounds suffered by
demonstrators were inflicted on their backs as they were complying with
the police order.
I did not witness anyone throwing anything at the police. The police
department's claim that protesters were throwing rocks and bolts is a
complete fabrication being used to rationalize what by any civilized
standard was an abuse of authority and excessive use of force on
non-violent demonstrators. All of the violence was perpetrated by the
When the police first began to move into position to march on the
picketline, I approached an officer who appeared to be in command to ask
what law was being violated. He responded by ordering me to step back or
face arrest. Even if the police felt they had cause to remove the
demonstrators, their resort to weapons was completely unprovoked and
unjustifiable. They are supposed to be trained in crowd control techniques
that use only the minimum of force necessary to carry out their duties.
Their use of force in these circumstances was simply excessive.
This morning's San Francisco Chronicle offers an illuminating insight
into the motivations of the police. In its report of the incident, the
Chronicle says: "Oakland police Chief Richard Word said officers did not
intend to injure protesters, but he said members of the force, about
one-third the size of San Francisco's, had no choice but to fire on the
crowd when protesters failed t o leave. Word said police feared many more
could have gathered during the day. Mayor Jerry Brown backed the police
In other words, the police chose to employ a 'preemptive strike' and
now justify that decision with the same logic used by President Bush to
justify the U.S. 'preemptive strike' on Iraq. It was not a response to
what the protesters were doing, but rather an effort to discourage any
others from joining them (and presumably to dissuade those present from
continuing or returning to demonstrate). I know of no place in the
Constitution or the law that gives the Oakland Police Department the
authority or right to chill protest by using violence to intimidate
citizens from exercising their first amendment rights.
The OPD had the option of waiting for the arbitrator's decision to
determine whether demonstrators would remove the picketline in the event
the arbitrator ruled that the dockers had to go to work. That would have
taken less time than was spent trying to disperse them with violence. But
the OPD did not wait for the arbitrator's decision. It preempted that
option as well.
What we see here is the application of military principles
(questionable ones at that) to civilian crowd control. Is the OPD to be
militarized as an extension of the armed forces for controlling the
populace when it opposes government policies?
Is this the "democracy" which we claim to uphold to the rest of the
world? Is this the standard we propose to export to Iraq? What happened to
the Bill of Rights? I will not remain silent while our local government
descends to the level of police state tactics! The Oakland City Council
should immediately conduct a thorough public investigation of this
incident and hold the participating officers to account for their
outrageous behavior as a "goon squad" for APL. Commanding officers
responsible for conceiving and ordering this assault should be removed
from the police force.
Citizens of Oakland and surrounding community also have a right to know
whether any state or federal authorities had a role in this incident or
the events leading up to it. Was there pressure from other levels of
government to "get tough" with or "make an example" of these
Sincerely, Michael Eisenscher, Organizer
U.S. Labor Against the War and Coordinator, Labor Committee for Peace &
Member of American Federation of Teachers and National Writers' Union
For more information, see Ben Terrall, "The
Cops Had No Reason to Open Up on Them," in Counterpunch. Photos are