What began as a peaceful though admittedly disorganized demonstration suddenly went awry. Police said they used physical force, a stun gun and chemical spray to subdue a high school student they arrested in connection with interfering with the handcuffing of another demonstrator, a teenage girl.
LaShun Frieson, 16, recalls struggling to escape from two officers as they tried to bring him to the ground. He said he was shocked by a stun gun multiple times, first by one held against his rib cage and then remotely, as an electrode fired from the stun gun delivered a shock to his leg.
"I was thinking, like, 'What did I do so bad?'" Frieson said. "I didn't have a weapon, and I didn't talk back to them. When they were trying to wrestle me down, I was trying to get away."
It's not clear what triggered the series of events that led to the struggle. Two witnesses said the demonstration was peaceful until police arrested a student. A police supervisor said the two officers who are assigned full-time to the West Oakland campus were simply trying to keep the area, and the students, safe.
But some doubt such force, or any force, was warranted. Many of the youths involved were student leaders demanding changes at their school. Some say the walkout itself could have been avoided with better communication between adults and teens.
"These were young people who wanted to speak out, and there weren't enough adults to listen to them," said Jumoke Hinton Hodge, director of the West Oakland Education Task Force. Hodge is running unopposed for a seat on the Oakland school board currently held by her husband, Greg Hodge.
Mark Schlosberg, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the author of a 2005 report, "Stun Gun Fallacy: How the Lack of Taser Regulation Endangers Lives," said he couldn't comment on this particular case without reviewing the facts. But in general, he said, police too often use stun guns as a substitute for less extreme force or for "good verbal communication."
"We think that they are a weapon," Schlosberg said. "They cause extreme pain, and while they're generally safe on some people in some cases, they have contributed to death."
Lt. Kirt Mullnix supervises the Oakland Police Department's CLASS program, which provides school resource officers to local high schools. He said the two officers involved Trevor Mackson and Carletta Garrett were assigned to the McClymonds complex last month. Although they are new school resource officers, he said, they each have 15 years experience on the streets.
Mullnix said the case like any that involves the use of force was being investigated. From what he has heard, he said, the stun gun use appears to have been appropriate and in line with department policy, even though the teenager was not armed.
"I wouldn't say it's that ordinary of a situation, but sometimes these things happen," he said.
Mullnix said most of the demonstrators did return to school immediately after the police ordered them to do so. But at one point, for reasons that remain unclear, the officers placed a student in the back of a patrol car.
That's when student-activist Arwa Omar told the officers she wouldn't go back to school until they let the student go.
Officers then tried to arrest Omar, a 5-foot, 102-pound high-school sophomore, who was standing in the street. But Frieson "came to her rescue" and stood between his friend and the police, Mullnix said.
"A struggle ensued, and that's when it happened," he said.
Mullnix said he wouldn't speculate about how the situation could have been handled differently. But, he said, "If someone's being placed in the back of a police car, you probably shouldn't get involved."
Omar said she was surprised and shaken by the way the police responded especially since they work at the school and she sees them every day. When she first saw the officers approach the group, she said, "I thought they were walking with us to keep us safe."
Frieson was taken to the hospital by ambulance to have a stun gun electrode removed, and then to Juvenile Hall, where he was released to his family. He said it was his first brush with the law. No charges had been filed against him as of Thursday afternoon, according to records at the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.
Instead of an out-of-school suspension, the students had to write an essay about peaceful protest, based on a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said James Gray, principal of BEST High School, who was not on campus at the time of the incident.
"We've really turned the situation into a learning experience for the students," Gray said. "What we're trying to do is get them to look at what they were trying to accomplish. We're trying to get students to think deeply about the protest and their cause."
Their cause was the dismissal of an after-school coordinator, who also taught music and helped students organize school elections.
Frieson was part of the drum line created through the program Youth Engaged in Leadership and Learning . Omar was involved in a student-leadership initiative. Those programs, and others, have effectively shut down in the absence of the coordinator, they said.
"This is our school, and we're trying to make our school a better place," Omar said.
Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.