EMERYVILLE -- Law enforcement officials Friday defended their ongoing reactions to the Occupy Oakland movement, while admitting some mistakes have been made as authorities grappled with fostering the movement's right to protest while protecting the city against a small minority determined to wreak havoc.
Both Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, speaking during a panel discussion sponsored by the California Association of Black Lawyers, said their agencies have taken a measured approach toward the Occupy Oakland movement. But Jordan admitted there were "several instances where I felt our officers did not act appropriately." Jordan refused to detail those instances, but promised his department will not argue against an upcoming report investigating the department's reaction to Occupy Oakland and will heed any recommendations it contains.
The Oakland Police Department has been under scrutiny from civil rights attorneys and Occupy Oakland members for its sometimes-violent reaction toward several demonstrations that began last year after an Occupy encampment at City Hall was torn down by the city. During a protest after the encampment was demolished, Oakland police used tear gas, rubber bullets and other less-than-lethal tools against demonstrators who were attempting to barge through a police line and return to their campsite at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
That initial police reaction immediately made Occupy Oakland the nation's most watched protest related to the movement and sparked denouncements from across the globe about excessive use of force by police. Similar scenes played out late last year and earlier this year as the movement continued to hold protests.
Jim Chanin, a civil rights attorney who has sued Oakland on several occasions in various police use-of-force cases, said the department's handling of the Occupy Oakland movement was in violation of rules the department must follow during crowd-control situations. The violations, Chanin said, included using tear gas on the group and indiscriminately shooting rubber bullets at the crowd.
"These policies were regularly violated," he said.
Jordan said he learned a lot from the protests but defended his department's reactions, saying his officers constantly struggled with allowing peaceful protests to continue while trying to arrest a small group intent on causing damage.
Since Occupy Oakland began, Jordan said, his officers have interacted with more than 60,000 protesters, but have only arrested a fraction of that number. Those figures prove, he said, that Oakland police are intending only to arrest those acting violently.
O'Malley agreed, saying accusations by Occupy Oakland members that her office is abusing its power by maliciously prosecuting anyone involved with the movement are baseless. O'Malley said her office has charged roughly 65 people with crimes related to the Occupy Oakland movement, compared with the hundreds of protesters who have been arrested. And, she said of those 65 cases, only 14 defendants have had stay-away orders issued against them. "You can see from the number of charges that we have been very careful," she said. "We have focused on those individuals engaged in violent behavior."
But Laleh Behbehanian, a member of Occupy Oakland's Anti-Repression Committee, said Occupy Oakland is being targeted by law enforcement in an attempt to squash the movement. "This is a perversion of the legal system that is being used to repress," she said. "If you throw feces at an officer, yes, you should be held accountable, but the 100 people around you should not be tear-gassed."