SUMMARY / INTRODUCTION
Several dozen people were injured on April 7th, 2003 when police fired less-lethal ammunition at protesters and dockworkers in the Port of Oakland. This incident was the most violent police response to the antiwar movement during the spring of 2003, and one might’ve expected it to be the end of antiwar activity in the city, but remarkably enough, the result was quite the opposite.
The antiwar people got together with the longshoremen’s union (ILWU), held rallies and forums in the community, spoke to the city council and five weeks later returned to the port for a successful demonstration in defense of First Amendment rights. Sometimes the good guys do win.
The following is a 30,000 word account by a protester who participated in the events from April 7th to May 12th.
1. that morning in the port
2. regrouping((NEW TITLE: WE MARCH TO CITY HALL))
3. protesters’ accounts of the attack
4. Mayor Brown speaks to the press
5. we address a city council meeting (WE ADDRESS THE CITY COUNCIL)
6. during the recess
7. the rest of the hearing
8. some reflections
9. evidence of preplanning emerges
10. actions against other war profiteers
11. the port gives Good Neighbor Awards
12. the labor unions hold a rally
13. a community forum on police violence
14. a formal hearing at the city council
15. negotiating with the police (THE POLICE SAY NO!)
16. May 12th—we return to the port
17. four city council members shared the risks
18. weather never ends
THAT MORNING IN THE PORT
On April 7th, 2003, a group called Direct Action to Stop the War set out to shut down APL (American President Lines), a shipping company in the Port of Oakland. The firm was profiting from the war in Iraq by transporting munitions; it even took pride in its history of military contracts.
Direct Action’s intention was to let APL know that war profiteering was not something to boast about, and the plan was to set up a nonviolent community picket line in hopes that the longshoremen and truckers wouldn’t cross it. Everyone wishing to participate in this endeavor was invited to assemble at the West Oakland BART station. I got there at 6:50 a.m. and found about a hundred protesters who were waiting for rides in a makeshift shuttle of cars that was taking people to the docks, about a mile away.
Three of us got into a small car. Minutes later we arrived at the Adeline Street Bridge and found that the police had closed it off to incoming autos. The cops seemed to have set up a picket line of their own, apparently to tell us that we shouldn’t approach the port.
Could we just walk in? Apparently so. We strolled past the police and set out across the bridge, which was actually a lengthy overpass that straddled a huge railroad yard. Presumably the bridge would take us to the docks, but I’d never been there before and wished I had a map; I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place. Where were the other protesters? There seemed to be just the three of us; myself and my two companions.
The starkly bare concrete bridge gave me the uncomfortable feeling that I was heading into a place of no return, crossing over into some no man’s land. Having been caught in a mass arrest just two weeks before, I felt wary of entering a place where I could easily be trapped.
The bridge curved around for a quarter of a mile, becoming Middle Harbor Road which wound around past the dockyards. On one side of that road were the railroad tracks, and on the other were row upon row of stacked container boxes going off into the distance. Behind the rows of boxes rose the tall, grotesque, loading cranes which bore an eerie resemblance to the alien invaders of H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds. If there were any ships in port, I couldn’t see them. Nor could I see any sign of the antiwar demonstration we’d come to take part in.
“There they are!” one of my companions said at last. We were near the end of the bridge and could finally see picket signs and banners in the distance, another quarter mile ahead of us. They were apparently at a gate entrance of APL.
As we got closer I could make out a long, drawn-out, circular picket line consisting of a couple hundred people, and when we finally got to where they were, we joined them and took up their chant, “War is for profit! Workers can stop it!” Along one side of us was a row of riot police who pressed uncomfortably close to us. I just tried to ignore the police as we walked past them.
I’d only been there a few minutes when a woman with a bullhorn called out, “We need ten people for a tactical team.”
A tactical team? I didn’t understand quite what that was, but a number of others stepped out, ready to go. Is this something I might get arrested for?—I wanted to ask, but didn’t. I was frightened, but if they needed me, I felt I’d better go. I set out with the others, walking westward along Middle Harbor Road. One of the women began a chant and the rest of us took it up, chanting as we strode along, getting ever deeper into the port area.
It didn’t look or feel like any port I’d ever seen before. No water and no ships were in sight, only an endless chain link fence which separated us from the equally endless rows of stacked containers. There were no buildings along this part of the road, and no sidewalk either, just oily gravel that crunched beneath our feet. It looked like a region of vast distances with this single road. Now and then a semi rolled past. A helicopter was hovering in the sky overhead, like a mechanical bird of prey. The din of its motor filled the air around us.
Eventually the shape of a building loomed up ahead at another gate in the fence; someone told me this was the main gate of APL. As we got closer, we could see banners and picket signs. There appeared to be a fairly large contingent of protesters there, maybe a couple hundred, but we were prevented from getting within a hundred yards of them by lines of riot police.
On this side of the police lines, we were only a couple dozen in number—the protesters I’d come with and others who were scattered about in small groups. There were also a few with green armbands, indicating that they were legal observers. We stood there, impotently watching our companions in the larger contingent up ahead which seemed to be trapped behind the police lines.
“I think they’re holding a meeting,” said a fellow standing near me.
“A meeting?” I queried. “At a time like this?”
“They have to decide what they’re going to do.”
It seemed quite obvious when he said it, but it did impress me as impressive to see democratic principles being applied even now. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be much we could do to support those people. They’d been pushed away from the gate where they’d been picketing, and it was now guarded by some of the riot police. The cops nearest us were trying on their gas masks, but for the moment at least nothing seemed to be happening.
So what about our original mission—to hold a demonstration that would persuade the longshoremen to go home for the day?
“That’s already happened,” a woman whose name was Ingrid told me.
“It has? Did the dockworkers respect our picket line?”
“Yes, they did.”
So our demonstration had succeeded. But I’d wanted to be part of it, and I was now learning to my chagrin that by the time I’d arrived at about 7 a.m., it was all over with. “I missed it?” I gasped unbelievingly. “But how could that be? I was here at seven, as I was told.”
Ingrid told me what had occurred.
Knowing that we were coming—our protest had been widely publicized in advance; it was even in the Oakland Tribune—the shippers had phoned their employees, telling them to come in an hour early. But our people got wind of that and passed the information around to as many as possible. Some 300 protesters had arrived as early as 5 a.m. Unfortunately I hadn’t been one of them.
So our objective seemed to have been achieved. I looked again towards the contingent trapped behind police lines, but they weren’t there now; they seemed to have disappeared. Then I saw their banners moving in the distance, heading away from us, deeper into the port area. How much farther did that road go? I kept wishing I’d brought a map.
Then I saw Dave, a person I knew from other protest activities. He’d just arrived about the same time as I, but he knew the port geography rather well and told me that the next three gates along the road belonged to SSA.
“SSA?” I repeated. I’d never heard of SSA, and it wasn’t mentioned on our leaflet.
“Stevedoring Services of America. We’re picketing them too,” Dave said, and told me the company was added to our list after it had been awarded a $4.8 million contract to manage the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. He showed me a leaflet put out by the longshoremen’s union; it was quite long, and I only took time to read a paragraph: “This is a preview of how American corporations will be the beneficiaries of this illegal war by securing contracts to rebuild and operate businesses in a post-war Iraq.”
I asked Dave what arrangements had been made with the union in preparation for today’s action, and he explained that the longshoremen couldn’t legally strike to oppose the war. However, if the workers were to arrive at the docks and find a community picket line, they would then have the option of waiting outside the gates and calling an arbitrator to come and make a ruling. Dave had heard the reports that the longshoremen had respected our picket line, but he doubted that they’d actually gone home for the day. They were probably still waiting for the arbitrator.
As for Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), I was to hear more of it in weeks to come—that along with being a war profiteer, the company was also notoriously anti-labor, and had locked out longshoremen the year before in an effort to break the union.
By now even the banners had disappeared from sight, and presumably our companions of that contingent had reached the gates of SSA and joined the protesters already there. Suddenly a loud explosion rang out from approximately where I’d last seen them heading, near a row of trees. A plume of smoke rose into the air above the trees. It was followed by another blast and another plume of smoke. Tear gas grenades?
We could only guess what was going on. We watched for a long time without seeing anything explanatory, and our “lost” contingent didn’t reappear. Some people in our group had cell phones, but it appeared that nobody around me had exchanged numbers with the other group, so there was no way to communicate with them.
What should we do now? We began our withdrawal towards the picket line at the first APL gate which was a quarter of a mile back the way we’d come, but as we set out in that direction, we were met by several dozen protesters who’d left there and were coming our way.
A woman whose name I later learned was Liz spoke over a bullhorn and confirmed earlier reports that the longshoremen had responded to our picket line. Bullhorns are a terribly inefficient means of communication and it was hard to hear the details. If she had any information about what was happening down the road, I didn’t hear it. Meanwhile, trucks were moving past us.
What followed was a lengthy discussion over what to do next, but before we’d gotten to the point of deciding anything, someone looked back and noticed that the riot police were gone from the main APL gate.
That settled that. We trooped back to the now-unguarded gate and set up a picket line for incoming trucks. There were over a hundred of us here now. Among them I saw an elderly man in a wheelchair whom I recognized as Bob Miller from the Lake Merritt Peace Walk. He must’ve been quite old, but he was out here with us on this picket line, a real fighting son of a bitch.
Some of the truck drivers passing us on Middle Harbor Road honked and waved peace signs, and we responded with loud cheers.
We’d been picketing this gate for about half an hour when the riot police suddenly reappeared, emerging from an AC Transit bus which they’d apparently commandeered, and started to move in behind us. I don’t think they said anything to us; in fact, I never heard the police say anything that day.
So we began our retreat, retracing our steps down the railroad tracks towards the long bridge by which we’d entered. It was half a mile from where we were now. We kept walking, and the police kept following us. I was afraid they might arrest us, but what I didn’t understand was that instead of making mass arrests they’d been shooting people with pellet guns. Actually, someone had told me that’s what the police were doing, but at the moment I didn’t quite grasp the concept—“dowels” and “concussion grenades” were not yet part of my vocabulary, nor was the term “less-lethal ammunition.”
It wasn’t till afterwards, when people showed me the physical evidence, which included the wooden bullets, the concussion grenade fragments, and the physical wounds those weapons had inflicted, that I even began to comprehend what had happened a mile down the road, at the gates of SSA.
As we retreated towards the Adeline Street Bridge and then across it, we discussed reports that our companions had shut the shippers down. However, there’d been no ships in port, and so our action could’ve been more effective had it been on another day, observed one person somewhat regretfully. “We did this on the wrong day.”
“That’s irrelevant,” said another. What mattered was that the dockworkers had respected our picket line. This was the first time that the antiwar movement had approached the labor movement in a serious way. “The significance is that we’ve set a precedent for future actions. If we can shut down a port, we can stop a war.”
That was something we in the antiwar movement needed to think about. Today had been a trial run. No doubt the cops were thinking the same thing; what I didn’t yet realize was that for the last couple hours they’d also been doing something unprecedented.
When we finally reached the end of the bridge, we tarried a while, watching as the riot police arrived in their commandeered AC Transit bus. They closed off the port behind us, but it seemed a little late for them to be doing that, since it appeared that for the most part we’d accomplished what we’d set out to do.
Three policemen blocked the sidewalk entrance of the bridge. One was carrying a weapon that looked like a grenade launcher, while the other two were armed with shotguns. They held them at the ready, across their arms, not pointing them at us, but the threat was implied. Later on we heard that in police jargon they were called a “Tango Team.” They wore bandoleers of ammunition across their shoulders as in a cowboy movie.
They didn’t seem to notice the huge old mattress beside them on which was written: SHUT DOWN THE WAR MERCHANTS.
We set out for the West Oakland BART station which had been our assembly place; it was only another half mile. As we walked we conversed. One of the people I talked with was a photographer named Ben, who told me he was going to put photos of the demonstration on the website of Direct Action. I mentioned Bob Miller, the old guy in the wheelchair, and Ben told me he’d gotten some good photos of him.
Then I saw Bob, and greeted him. He didn’t respond, and then I realized that he was deaf. I tapped him on the shoulder and grinned and gave him a thumbs up, but I wanted to say something more. How do you say something to a deaf guy? I gave him a hug.
== *** ==
Shortly after we reached the BART station, a large contingent joined us, coming from the opposite direction, marching down 7th Street from the west. I wondered where they’d been and who they were.
These people turned out to be our “lost” contingent—the unit I’d seen disappear behind police lines and into the SSA domain. Many were injured. One fellow had two large welts on his back and one on his chest. Several had been hit as many as four or five times. One person showed me a round piece of wood, about as thick as a broomstick, and over an inch long—the wooden bullets the police had been firing.
Someone told me they’d been fired upon repeatedly, but there wasn’t a lot of time to share experiences, and it wasn’t until later that I heard more about what had gone on and learned how extensive the shootings and the injuries were.
Despite the ordeal, they arrived at the BART station, not as battered survivors straggling in, two or three at a time, but with their unit still intact, banners flying. Nobody was hysterical. Nobody was crying. These people had been beaten up—not beaten down.
While paramedics and other medical personnel attended the most seriously wounded, someone showed up with a huge sack of bagels. Cupcakes were also distributed. Food is often donated at demonstrations, and I think the thoughtfulness of the donors means as much as the food itself. It was tremendously welcome.
It’s hard to estimate the number of protesters at the port that morning. That’s partly because we were at five different gates, and also because people were constantly arriving and leaving. I knew some who came early and stopped by to spend an hour walking in a picket line before departing to go to work. Others came much later. Seven hundred is the number commonly given, and that’s probably as good a guess as any.
At this point there were over a hundred of us here in the plaza of the BART station. Even using bullhorns it was hard to hold a meeting with a group of this size. It was still in the forenoon, and there was the question of what we should do now. Though a lot of people had gone home, there were many who wanted to continue the protest in some way or other.
It was decided to first take a few minutes for people to sit down with their affinity groups and talk things over. Most groups consisted of anywhere from five to twenty five persons. Some had colorful names, such as Global Intifada. So the group sessions were carried out, and then a general discussion was held.
Two proposals were put forward: One was to go back to the docks to picket the next shift which would go on duty at 1 p.m. The other proposal was to march downtown to City Hall. “We need to complain to the Oakland City Council about how we were treated!” said one person.
Some were skeptical of trying to talk to City Hall, but others were strongly for it. So we held a vote on where to go, “City Hall or the docks?” The vote seemed pretty evenly split. Then someone asked how many would go along with the majority, whichever the way the vote went. And most held up their hands for that. Our discussion continued for some time.
In retrospect, I’m awed when I realize what I witnessed there—a gathering of people who’d just returned from spending several hours in “enemy” territory where many had come under fire and suffered painful injuries, calmly sitting down to discuss and vote on what to do next.
Eventually, the proposal to march downtown seemed to be carrying the majority. “How far is it?” someone asked. A map was consulted. “About two miles.” We voted to go downtown.
So we set out, walking up 7th Street, on the sidewalk, rather quietly at first. Then a few people began moving into the street. Soon we were all in the street, before long taking over a full traffic lane, chanting our slogans in a spirited way. Eight or ten motorcycle police appeared out of nowhere and followed alongside us, but, they didn’t interfere, and when we came to intersections they went ahead and stopped traffic for us.
As we neared the downtown area we were chanting loudly, every step of the way. We had no drums or musical instruments, just bullhorns and our own voices. At one point a fellow sang a song that I guessed came from the IWW songbook. Then we took up chanting again:
“See democracy—this is what it looks like!”
We got responsive honks and peace signs from passing drivers. Some pedestrians waved and cheered, making the peace sign. As we passed one particular grocery store, the customers came streaming out, cheering and waving.
Then, on 9th Street, as we were about to cross Washington Street, heading for Broadway, the motorcycle police, who minutes before had been helpfully stopping traffic at intersections, suddenly cut in front of us and blocked our way. They evidently didn’t want us marching on Broadway.
Using their batons they shoved us back. I was on the left side of the street, where four cops barred our way. But suddenly we looked to the right of us, and there was our demonstration, streaming through the police line and up the street towards Broadway.
We quickly reformed our ranks, marching as a square. Having broken through the police line raised our morale tremendously and we immediately began chanting much louder than before:
“Whose street?”—“Our street!”
Then back to
“See democracy—this is what it looks like!”
Meanwhile, the motorcycle police took their defeat gracefully, or appeared to at least, and resumed their job of halting traffic at intersections as we passed.
There were many chants. One went something like, “No money to feed the poor?—you spent it on the war!” I really wondered when we would run out of voice, but we never seemed to.
Half a dozen bicyclists fanned out ahead of us, circling back and forth, scouting out the street for a block or so ahead of us, like cavalry for an infantry unit.
Finally, after marching up and down the streets of the downtown area, we arrived at the Federal Building, where in the middle of Clay Street we paraded in a circle, chanting loudly. The young woman leading the chants with a bullhorn seemed like an old pro, singing the phrases out, while we sang them back.
This went on for maybe an hour, with the police securing both ends of the block to prevent traffic from entering. Eventually the media showed up. I saw channels 2, 5, 7 and 14. One of the persons I saw being interviewed was Scott Bohning, an environmental engineer who’d been hit nine times by wooden bullets, including in the nose. He took his bandage off for the camera.
There seemed to be more injured people than I’d realized. Even at this point I was still only beginning to comprehend the extent of what had happened to my companions in the SSA zone.
Eventually, around noon, we ended our rally at the Federal Building, and marched out, down Clay Street, up 11th, up Broadway again, and this time went to the civic center plaza where we marched across the wet grass to end our rally in front of City Hall.
The object of this final rally was to talk to the city council about the bad treatment we’d received from the Oakland Police Department. But I wondered if the council would listen to us. Finally a well-dressed woman took the bullhorn and introduced herself as Councilwoman Jane Brunner. She spoke and told us she was going to call for a public hearing.
The fact that Councilwoman Brunner had chosen to speak with us was reassuring, and it appeared that our complaints would be heard. Actually, if I had thought about it, I would’ve remembered that the Oakland City Council had already taken a stand on the war; it was among the 150 or so across the country which had passed antiwar resolutions. Several of the council members had also led a large antiwar march of some ten thousand people through the streets of Oakland just two days earlier. That was an indication, though certainly not a guarantee, of how the council members might respond to this morning’s events. You always wonder who’s still going to be with you once the shooting starts.
As our rally wound up, some news items were announced: The number of our people arrested that morning was thirty one. It was also reported that several longshoremen had been caught in police fire. The public hearing which Jane Brunner intended to request would be in two weeks, but there’d also be a council meeting the next evening. We could it attend and speak in an open forum.
Meanwhile, we had an itinerary of other projects and we’d continue to work on them. Our rally ended with—“Till we meet again next week, this time in San Ramon to shut down Chevron Toxico.”
== *** ==
PROTESTERS’ ACCOUNTS OF THE ATTACK
Our companions who rejoined us at the BART station had spent an incredibly gruesome two hours in the depths of the port. After they disappeared from my sight, marching west along Middle Harbor Road, they reached the SSA terminal and joined another of group of picketers. That’s where the shootings began, at about 7:40 a.m., when I witnessed those loud airbursts and plumes of smoke above a clump of trees.
There are many photos and videos as well as a large amount of eyewitness testimony of what happened next. Some of this material was reported in newspaper articles, and much was presented at forums and city council meetings. There are also about a dozen accounts written by protesters who were there. In trying to reconstruct what happened that morning of April 7th, 2003, I think it would help to go back to the beginning and start with events at 5 a.m.
According to a report by a photographer who witnessed the first three hours of the demonstration, two to three hundred protesters were peacefully picketing the first APL gate by 5 a.m., and Oakland police were blocking traffic to prevent accidents.
The photographer continues on to say that at 5:30 a.m., another two hundred or more protesters arrived to picket at the second APL gate farther down the street, and police were also there to direct traffic. More protesters kept coming, and around 6 a.m. there were enough that some went beyond the APL gates and down the street to picket at the SSA terminals.
Then, at 6:45, a large contingent of OPD (Oakland Police Department) arrived wearing gas masks and armed with rubber-bullet guns and chemical weapon grenade launchers. “I knew this signaled trouble!” the photographer reported, and took several photos which were afterwards posted on Indymedia. At 7:15 he watched as police at the middle gate apparently told picketers to disperse. “I was too far away to hear,” he says, “as I was walking down from the first gate at the time. Picketers quickly crossed the street to stand on dirt between pavement and railroad tracks on the opposite side of the street.”
(At the same time that the photographer was observing these events, I arrived, also walking down Middle Harbor Road towards the main APL gate.) His account continues:
“The gasmasked police then formed a line that prevented almost everyone from leaving the area. There is no exit on the other side of the police line location! At this time there was a line of trucks and cars waiting to enter the dock area.
“When I got close enough to the first police line to take these pics, suddenly about fifteen cops ran to cut off the few people, including me, who were behind their line. These cops would not let me leave even though I told the gasmasked officer I was leaving as they had apparently ordered. Fortunately they did not have enough officers to block the entire street and track area, so I escaped down the middle of the street.”
He couldn’t get close enough to take any more pictures, and since he didn’t have a press pass, he started walking back towards the first APL gate. Then, suddenly,
“I hear two loud shots, and turning around see what looks like tear gas being fired into the air back at people who are trapped by the OPD. One grenade is lobbed about 25 feet in the air and I clearly see a smoky trail behind it.”
That was of course the same airburst that I witnessed, and as I’ve said, at that moment I didn’t know what was going on. The photographer, however, had a much better estimate of the situation than I did. He also saw that it was significant news and had to be publicized. This was an information war as much as anything, and every second counted. He dashed off to his computer and, by 10:23 a.m., had the photos along with a report posted on the Indymedia website.
At the end of his report, the photographer adds:
“Late breaking news: A friend told me via cell phone that she saw police pick out a Global Exchange activist who was talking to a truck driver, saying ‘Arrest her!’ Multiple cops then ‘swarmed her’ and arrested her. This same friend witnessed the unprovoked use of concussion grenades by police on protesters, dock workers and truckers.”
* * *
These events were also described by a protester who was among the people trapped behind those police lines. This person, also a photographer, wrote under the penname “RAIL.” He reports:
“By 6 a.m. this morning, hundreds of protesters had blocked both entrances to the shipping company American President Lines, which was targeted because it is a primary mover of military supplies . . .
“At 7:15 a.m., the first order to disperse was given by the Oakland PD with a two minute warning. As cops moved in, most demonstrators had moved to the sidewalk or across the street. At this point the first arrest was made, a demonstrator/performer on roller skates was grabbed as he skated too close to the line of police.
“Many protestors struggled to hold the picket line by allowing the cops to let the first few cars to pass and blocking the trucks further down the street. This resulted in a few more arrests as cops picked people off the front lines. One trucker expressed his opposition to the war but moved along once ordered by police.
“Once traffic was moving riot [police] moved in and began firing shotgun shells filled with octopus shaped beanbags, causing protesters to scatter.”
“The demo had regrouped at the next entrance,” RAIL reports. It was the first of the three gates of SSA (Stevedoring Services of America), which are spaced out over a distance of half a mile along Middle Harbor Road. “A handful of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members were standing outside waiting to get into work.”
* * *
The longshoremen were respecting the picket line set up by an earlier group of protesters who were already at the SSA gate at the time that RAIL and his companions joined them. One of these picketers was Jesse, who had arrived only shortly before the police attack began.
Jesse had entered the port by way of Maritime Street, which leads directly to the SSA terminals. The police had closed the street to passenger vehicles. In a report, which was posted later that morning, Jesse tells of his arrival:
“We all piled out of the vehicles and walked past the single policeman that was manning the roadblock. We walked a ways (almost a mile it felt like) to meet up with the other protesters who were enjoying a peaceful picket. When we arrived we had just been told that a dispersal order had occurred, but I heard none.
“All of a sudden, explosions are going off, smoke can be seen, people are panicking and the police are aiming what looks to be shotguns at people and shooting into the crowd at close range. It was the most barbaric display of violence that I have witnessed yet in my young life so far. …
“[Our] protest was completely non-violent and peaceful. We were blockading a corporation who profits from the war. … “Personally, I took 4 wooden bullets to the left side of my body. One in the lowest rib in my chest, and 2 on my leg, with the last leaving my left knee looking like a grapefruit. The flash grenades were the scariest because they were actual explosions, and they were going off only meters from our heads. …
“Watching cops run up to a crowd of panicking people, aim at their heads, and fire was a sight I will never forget. I saw a guy who got hit in the face with one of them and he was really bloodied up. There were people with cameras so you can expect some photos tonight. I wonder what happened to the mainstream cameraman who was caught up in a group of protesters that was getting shot at close range by cops. I also wonder if it will affect their reporting at all.
“So for a couple hours basically, we were in a tactical retreat, with the cops following close behind using nasty tricks to scare people into leaving. The motorcycle cops thought they could just drive right through us without incident. I wonder what kind of person it takes to attack a peaceful crowd like that. It's like I asked one of the cops: ‘How do you sleep at night?’
“When I left, people were regrouping at West Oakland BART,” Jesse finishes his report. Jesse was in the contingent which showed up at the BART station with banners still flying shortly after my group got there.
Before going anywhere for medical treatment, Jesse first wrote his report and posted it on Indymedia at 11:03 a.m. So it would’ve been up there by the time we were marching downtown. The next day, April 8th, Jesse added this:
“My bruises will heal.
“Through most of the day yesterday, I was thinking of our sister Rachel Corrie who gave her life defending Palestine. My bruises hurt, but they will heal. We will continue our resistance.
“To Rachel: Rest in the Peace that you could not find in Life, and know that your sacrifice was not in vain. We will carry on, and we will not give up.”
* * *
Altogether, the police pursued the demonstrators for a distance of two miles, firing on them as well as on dockworkers eight times over a period of an hour and a half. Transcripts of police radio messages were later published in the Oakland Tribune (5/7/03), giving the times of the shootings as 7:38 a.m., 7:41 a.m., 7:58 a.m., 8:02 a.m., 8:06 a.m., 8:18 a.m., 8:20 a.m. and 9:05 a.m. The shootings began near the gate entrances of SAA on Middle Harbor Road, and eventually ended in the residential area near 7th and Willow streets, which is only a short distance from the West Oakland BART station. All the places where the protesters were fired upon were public streets.
More eyewitness accounts of the shootings appeared during the days and weeks that followed. One of these was by Kay Walker, a member of the Workers Democracy Network. She’d arrived at the docks at 6:30 a.m. She was at one of the SSA gates:
“Many of the truckers and other employees (members of the ILWU) refused to cross the picket lines. Our action, which was more like a strike than anything else, was beginning to be successful when the police arrived on the scene.
“I was picketing at the third and final gate when we were joined by about 200 people who appeared to have been driven away from other sites -- they appeared a little dazed.
“The police arrived -- eyeballed the group for a few minutes and then began to roll their motorcycles into the crowd -- a two tiered motorcycle brigade. No order to disperse was given. We began walking rapidly in the only direction open to us -- right into the freeway which had been blocked off -- no traffic. We were being moved like a herd of cattle and it appeared to be planned. I kept looking back at the crowd as I moved away from the police. A volley of shots rang out and again. We later saw the bullets -- large wooden shells - and the injuries - massive swelling and painful lacerations - some broken bones.
“My friend and I turned around and saw a young woman lying on the ground too injured to move. Her leg was swollen and lacerated in two places. Her injuries were swelling to the size of large oranges. This was documented on film as were other injuries.”
* * *
Not all of the protesters were able to get out of the port. One of them was Paul Ginocchio who was arrested during the attack. Paul wrote and posted his report on Indymedia the next day, after getting out of jail:
“. . . time sped up very quickly as we heard huge blasts from guns that sounded like war itself, and I saw some people fall from wounds caused by the objects being fired upon us. Many of us ran, some left the scene altogether. Some of us did not want to give up that quickly, feeling that it was our democratic right to picket on Oakland property. We re-grouped and joined a smaller picket circle in front of another driveway at the docks.
“Once again, we had little time to come together and communicate about what we wanted to do. My girlfriend and I joined the last remaining circle. We saw people running, police on motorcycles powerfully charging at the protestors, actually hitting one woman, leaving tire prints on her arm, leg, and back. The loud bangs began again . . .. Suddenly another wave of police ran towards us. Many people tried to run away to the other side of the street, but we were effectively trapped. Thankfully my 60-year old mother had just managed to avoid the charging police, as I saw one guy get thrown to the ground very forcefully by five police officers. I saw no one doing anything violent towards the police. . .
“. . . I saw people trying to escape and ‘disperse’ as the police would say, but they were not allowed to. It was too late. . . .
“We were arrested at around 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning and held in Santa Rita county jail until 4 a.m. the next morning. . . . There were 16 men in our cell.”
“The time in this cell was tough and hard, on the cement floors, but we managed to bond at a level not usual in the divided norm of our society.”
* * *
One of the people sharing that crowded cell at Santa Rita was Jack Heyman, a longshore union official who’d been on duty in the port that morning when he was arrested.
ILWU Business Agent Jack Heyman was in the area of the main APL gate, not far from where I was, when the loud airbursts went off. At the time I didn’t know who Jack Heyman was; it was another protester, Dave, who told me he’d seen him nearby.
There was a detailed account of the event in the next (April 2003) issue of The Dispatcher, which is the ILWU newspaper:
“During the melee, [Business Agent] Heyman kept telling his members to leave the site because it clearly was unsafe to be there. He got a call on his cellular from a member informing him that two longshore workers had been hit by police bullets up the road at SSA. Local 10 President Henry Graham then ordered him to drive to the gate and tell the members, ‘Get the hell out of there. It’s unsafe.’
“Heyman was driving up the road in his clearly marked Business Agent car when a police officer ordered him to turn off the engine. As Heyman explained that he was only trying to get his members out of harm’s way, several cops dragged him out of the car, threw him to the ground, beat him, handcuffed him and hauled him into a waiting paddy wagon, even though he was dressed in a jacket bearing a large version of the ILWU logo and wearing his white cap.
“Oakland School Board Member Dan Siegel witnessed the event and called out to the police, asking what Heyman was being arrested for. ‘I don’t know,’ one of the cops responded. ‘He’s just being arrested.’”
These actions were recorded on video, so there’s not much room for dispute over how it happened. But why did the police arrest a person whom they certainly must’ve known was a union official doing his job? As for the school board member, Dan Siegel, he was, in the course of the morning, shot five times by police.
* * *
One of the last persons to be injured was Willow Rosenthal. She tells of being at an SSA gate when:
“The police started driving towards the group (of which I was a member) on their motorcycles and shot more of the shock grenades, and were firing into the crowd with some other type of weapon. I ran with the rest of the group up Maritime, attempting to stay away from the police fire. Since the police had closed off any other route we kept walking up Maritime. After a few minutes the police were not visible anymore.”
The distance covered by Willow and her companions after leaving that SSA gate would be approximately a mile. She continues,
“At the corner of 7th Street and Maritime the group engaged in a discussion of what to do next. It was decided that we would go back to the BART Station about half a mile up 7th Street …. While the group was discussing, some of us were marching in a circle and singing on Maritime. We were there maybe about 15 minutes. I think it was around 9:15 a.m.. At this point, the police rode into view again on their motorcycles and made a line on Maritime facing 7th Street. I was afraid that if I went onto 7th Street this might be viewed by the police as an attempt to block the street, so I stayed on Maritime.
“I’m not sure if the police used their PA system to communicate with us, but if so, it was too low for me to hear. The group had decided to go up 7th Street back to the BART station, but right at that moment when we began moving in the direction of BART, and before much of the group had left Maritime, the police got off their bikes and began to fire into the group.
“The police line was about 30 feet away from me at this time. I saw the police began to raise their rifles, so I turned to run. I was hit on the back of the right calf as I attempted to run away from the police fire. I felt that I was badly injured but I kept running since I was afraid of getting hit again. I ran into 7th Street, and the police kept advancing towards us, trapping us on the left side of the street just before a tunnel without pedestrian access that I could see. I was very afraid that I would be hit again. I didn’t know if I should try to escape through the truck traffic in the 7th Street tunnel but that seemed dangerous too.
“Someone let me lean on them as we attempted to flee. Finally we found the entrance to the pedestrian walkway, and a few men carried me to the corner of 7th Street where a woman with a car drove me to my house on Henry Street.”
* * *
Most of the protesters probably went to the port that morning in the belief that our First Amendment rights would be respected. Only two days earlier, on Saturday, April 5th, there’d been a large antiwar demonstration of 10,000 people in downtown Oakland, and the police had been quite amicable that day; there’d been no problems. So people generally concluded that there wouldn’t be any trouble on April 7th either. The police attack, which began around 7:40 a.m., was not anticipated.
The remarkable thing, which has greatly impressed me as I read and listen to the various accounts, is how courageous the protesters were under fire. Others remarked this too. According to Jonathan Nack, a Bay Area activist who was there, “The protestors conducted themselves in an organized, dignified, calm, and non-violent manner at all times, even while being fired upon. Very many observers have corroborated this account.”
People fled under the barrages. Some were badly injured and were somehow gotten to a hospital. There are several accounts of people who risked themselves under fire to aid wounded companions. A few were isolated behind police lines where they watched the events almost as though they were spectators, while yet others regrouped at the next SSA gate. A video of one scene shows that as the police approached again, the protesters stood their ground and chanted:
“The whole world is watching!”
“We’re nonviolent--how about you?”
The police answered with more wooden bullets.
== *** ==
MAYOR BROWN SPEAKS TO THE PRESS
The TV news that evening showed policemen blasting away with their pellet guns. “Less-lethal” weapons, they were
called. 1 ½-inch-thick wooden bullets, called “dowels,” were displayed. They were the kind that people had already shown me. Police had also fired small beanbags which were loaded into shotgun shells. Several of the victims, including angry, injured longshoremen as well as protesters, were interviewed on TV. Oakland Police Chief Richard Word was also on the screen, trying to explain it all. He claimed that rocks had been thrown at the police.
When asked by Channel 2 reporters about the wounds that had been inflicted, Chief Word downplayed the injuries, saying, “The intention is certainly not to harm, but to disperse. That means by stinging the skin, that is the intention.” Reports that came in during the days and weeks to follow showed that those weapons did far more than just sting the skin.
Bay Area newspapers the next morning carried front-page photos of Sri Louise, an attractive woman with a huge lump and bruise on her left jaw. Other injured persons whom I’d seen interviewed by reporters that day were also on TV and in newspapers.
Oakland Police officials also expressed their views. The first thing all of them said was that police fired when protesters threw rocks and other projectiles at them. That story didn’t hold up well under scrutiny, but it fit handily into a ten-second sound byte, and it’s a story the police have continued to repeat.
However, some far more revealing explanations were given by Mayor Jerry Brown and police spokespersons. According to their statements, which were printed in several newspapers, the riot police were sent to the docks for the purpose of driving protesters out of the port. This was done at the request of the shipping companies, who regarded the public streets of the port as their private property. Little thought was given to either the physical safety or 1st Amendment rights of the demonstrators, dockworkers, or newsmen—all of whom had legal rights and legitimate reasons to be there.
Statements made by several officials to at least six different newspapers indicate that this was the policy and pervasive thinking of the Oakland mayor and the police department, not some off-the-cuff remark made by an individual.
Police spokeswoman Danielle Ashford told the San Francisco Chronicle (4/8/03) that police “moved in at the request of shipping company officials who wanted the protesters removed from private property. When the protesters refused verbal orders by police to disperse, Oakland police Capt. Rod Yee authorized the use of less-than-lethal force.”
“They were clearly taking over the intersection and in some cases took other kinds of actions,” Lt. Paul Figueroa, another Oakland police spokesperson, told the Tribune (4/9/03). “We had to take action.”
Police Chief Richard Word told the Tribune (4/8/03) that his police department was determined not to allow antiwar protesters to take over the fourth-largest port in the nation. And in the Chronicle (4/8/03) he explained that if officers “had simply waited it out and facilitated protesters, there could have been thousands, not hundreds, out there, and we would have been overwhelmed.”
“That’s what happens when you don’t get out of the way,” Mayor Jerry Brown told the Montclarion (4/18/03) when asked what he thought of the injuries suffered by the protesters. The mayor told the Chronicle (4/8/03) that protesters wanted to “occupy and take over the port and shut it down. The city is not going to let that happen.”
“If people try to take over the port for the sake of stating their opposition then we have a protocol we have to follow. It’s unfortunate that people were hurt,” Mayor Brown told the Mercury News, (4/8/03). And to the Tribune (4/10/03) he said the actions of the protesters might be considered sabotage. “They wanted to stop the shipments to the men and women at the front.”
In the New York Times (4/8/03), Mayor Brown said, “It’s a matter of acting prudently under all of the circumstances. What we can tell at this point, the police responded in accordance with their protocol.” And he told the San Francisco Bay Guardian (4/16/03), “[Police] took the actions that they believed were appropriate, the only actions they could have, given that the number of protesters was growing.”
Although today Jerry Brown was talking like someone to the right of John Ashcroft, in the past he presented himself as a progressive Democrat. Leaflets which were later distributed among us displayed photos of Jerry back in 1997, carrying a picket sign together with protesters at the docks—that was when he was running for mayor. We looked at those six-year-old photos and shook our heads, feeling a sense of betrayal; for whatever reason, Jerry Brown must’ve had a change of political stance. Some said that he was an adroit opportunist, out to take advantage of any promising situation, and that on this occasion he probably expected his statements to be echoed and lauded by officials at the state and federal level.
As it turned out, there was no public response from any federal official—except for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who denounced the attack and asked the mayor for an explanation of why it had occurred.
Nevertheless, on the subject of First Amendment rights, Mayor Brown had this to say, “Oakland is second-to-none in its support of peaceful assembly and protest.” Chronicle (4/8/03)
While the mayor stood behind the police, the city council took its own view of things. To begin with, Nancy Nadel, who’s both a councilwoman and also the vice mayor, had sent her aide, Joel Tena, to the port that morning as an observer. That in itself was a statement of how seriously Nadel had considered the matter even before anything had happened.
When the police attempted to justify their actions by claiming rocks had been thrown at them, Joel Tena gave his account which was quoted in several newspapers. “I was there from 5 a.m. on, and the only violence that I saw was from the police,” Tena told the San Jose Mercury News (4/8/03). The Oakland Tribune (4/9/03) quoted him as saying, “At no time did I see protesters act in a provocative way or throw any projectile.”
Speaking to the Tribune (4/8/03) herself, Nancy Nadel described the police reaction as “entirely inappropriate.” And Jane Brunner said, “We will get to the bottom of why the police acted as they did.”
Council Members Jane Brunner, Nancy Nadel and Jean Quan called for an investigation. The three were joined the next day by a fourth council member, Desley Brooks. A fifth, Danny Wan, later added his voice to their number. There are eight seats on the council; two members took no public stand on the matter, and the council president, Ignacio de la Fuente, openly backed the police use of force.
== *** ==
WE ADDRESS A CITY COUNCIL MEETING
I was getting a crash course in city government as I read the newspapers and attended a council meeting on the evening of April 8th, the day after the event at the docks. This was the first time I’d even been inside the Oakland City Hall, and it was an impressive building, inside as well as out.
The chamber was packed. I had to go up to one of the balconies, and even there I found standing room only. Several of us recognized each other from the previous day. “Good to see you here,” people were saying to each other.
The council sat in a semicircle on a raised platform at the front of the chamber, like a panel facing the audience. At one end of the panel sat Jane Brunner, whom I recognized from the previous day. Near her was a woman whose nameplate read Nancy Nadel; she was the one who’d sent her aide to the docks to act as an observer. And in the middle was Council President Ignacio de la Fuente—who in newspaper statements had supported the police attack. He was chairing the meeting.
Facing the council, at the front of the audience, was a podium with a microphone for people speaking from the floor. There was also a huge video screen on which was projected the image of whoever was speaking at the moment. The screen was on the wall at the front of the chamber, above the panel of council members. Had it not been for the aid of this screen, I wouldn’t have been able to see the faces of the speakers from where I stood in the balcony.
We’d already been told that according to the rules under which the council meetings functioned, no official hearing could be held until two weeks later. The purpose of that rule was to give persons representing all sides of an issue time to gather their evidence and prepare their statements. Moreover, there was already a non-related agenda that had been scheduled for this evening. However, for the first half hour there’d be an open forum where a dozen of us could speak from the floor. In effect this would be an unofficial hearing.
Ignacio de la Fuente opened the meeting and started off by gruffly warning us that anyone who spoke out of turn would be immediately ejected by the police. He said this confidently, perhaps in the belief that the shootings of the previous day had put the fear of god into everyone. But a few immediately jeered him, and someone yelled, “Ignacio, you suck!”
There was a brief exchange of insults. From comments I’d overheard while waiting for this meeting to begin, I got the impression that some people had previous experience with Ignacio. But most of us were probably here for the first time and we remained quiet, for a while at least. Meanwhile, Ignacio made no attempt to follow through with his expulsion threat, and the proceedings began with the open forum.
Each speaker would be limited to a minute, and the first to step up to the podium and take the mike was a protester who introduced himself as James Harris.
“What I experienced yesterday was a preemptive armed attack on citizens of the Bay Area who were protesting a foolish, illegal, military adventure overseas,” he told the Council. “We were peaceful protesters. And even as the police officers fired on us I witnessed no panic among the protesters. We were walking away peacefully as the police continued to fire upon us. This kind of violence, I have seen in Nablus, Palestine, in a military occupation. I did not expect it in the United States of America!”
We applauded loudly as James finished and the next speaker stepped forward to the mike. His name was Gregory Morgan, and he explained in legal terms that the so called “non-lethal” munitions used the previous day were in fact defined by law as “lethal force.” Gregory held up some papers in his hand. “I have that court ruling here,” he said, and presented it to the council.
Kathleen Parsons was the next speaker.
“It’s rare for me to find a protest that was as badly handled by the police as the one was yesterday,” she told the Council.
“There are two basic questions here: Was there a leadership role that told the police to overreact in order to break down the demonstration, or, was it mere incompetence?
“I saw a woman with a left-temple injury. It could have taken out her eye if it had been a couple inches back or forth.
“I saw people hit in the back, and the only acts of violence I saw yesterday were those committed by the police.
“They took a deaf American Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair and dragged him behind police lines. And the officer handling his chair handled it so roughly that he struck another officer in the back.”
A deaf person in a wheelchair? On hearing that I guessed that she must’ve been referring to Bob Miller. It was probably after that incident that I’d seen him in our picket line at the main APL gate. Bob Miller is one of those guys who just doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up.
Kathleen had finished, and the next speaker was a man in his mid-twenties.
“My name is Lyman Hollins, I’m a longshoreman, I’m a member of Local 10,” he said, and was interrupted with enthusiastic applause. I applauded with the rest, but held my breath—what would he say about the event? Despite reports that the dockworkers had respected our picket line, I wasn’t at all sure where we stood with them. It seemed fearfully possible that they might view us as intruders and blame the antiwar movement along with the police for their injuries.
The applause finished, and Lyman spoke.
“I’m a lifelong resident of the city of Oakland and a witness to this act of pure aggression by the members of the Oakland Police Department,” he told the council. “I was in front of the SSA gate as they pushed the protesters from the APL gate. A phalanx of Oakland police and motorcycle officers approached us as the protesters were complying with police orders and dispersing. They passed the longshoremen, leaving us behind. The police officers then set off percussion grenades above our heads. Shot a longshoreman next to me in the back. That was shot deliberately at his back to take him down.
“When I called our business agent to come and take a look at this, he went to protect other workers which the police were advancing on and firing on. They fired and shot six more workers. [The business agent] was then dragged out of this car, handcuffed and taken to Santa Rita. Not to the Oakland jail. He was taken to Santa Rita! He got out of there at 2 a.m.—for protecting the workers! Doing the job that he was elected to do by our local, by our union!”
“Thank you, sir,” Ignacio cut in to remind him that his time was up. We applauded Lyman enthusiastically as he withdrew.
The arrested union official was Jack Heyman. I’d also been told that, shortly before being arrested, he’d apparently passed through the area where I was, near the APL main gate. Several people had seen him arrested and it was even on video, but nobody knew why the police had arrested him. It was another of the many unexplained things that had happened that day. The mainstream media reported the longshoremen’s injuries, but Heyman’s arrest was hardly mentioned.
Next at the mike was the rather thin, delicate woman whose photo I’d seen on the front pages of several newspapers. As was the case with all the speakers, her face was projected onto the huge video screen at the front, and so I could see that the swelling on the side of her jaw had gone down somewhat since the photo was taken, but she was still black and blue.
“Hello. My name is Sri Louise, and I am a member of the Prayer and Resistance Mobile Yoga Action Unit. I am a committed antiwar protester. I am also committed to nonviolent action. That commitment I take with me every time I go out into the street and what I got for that nonviolent commitment was this injury here.
“You may have seen it,” she said, pausing to hold up the large color photo of her injuries that had been in the newspapers. “This picture is all over the world. The entire world is watching what the Oakland city is going to do about this investigation into the Oakland Police Department. I want you to understand how serious this is that the whole world is watching you, and I, for one, am not going to settle for anything less than an absolute through investigation into what happened yesterday at the Oakland docks. Thank you.”
The next person to take the stand was a gray-haired man who looked to be in his sixties.
“I’m Stan Woods, I’m a resident of Oakland and a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 6. I’m speaking in an individual capacity tonight because my local hasn’t had a chance to meet in the last twenty four hours, but I feel without fear of contradiction that every one in the local condemns the attack both on members of Direct Action Against the War as well as members of ILWU Local 10. I feel it’s important to mention that because the rightwing demagogues of Fox News for example like Bill O’Reilly tried to separate the two. We condemn [the attacks on] both. We don’t accept any separation. [Attacks on] both were totally unjustified.
“I’d like to speak just for a minute about the so called non-lethal nature of rubber bullets and wooden projectiles. In Northern Ireland from 1972 to 1996 thirty Irish Catholics died from being shot by rubber bullets from the British occupation forces. Several dozen died in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip fired by Israeli authorities.
“I had the dubious distinction of being one of the first in the US shot by rubber bullets in the 1970’s. After they tried them out in Northern Ireland, they thought, ‘Well, why not bring them over here?’ And I was sandwiched in an icepack after being shot in the back and the chest for three days. Fortunately, it wasn’t lethal, but it very well could have been. And I just want to say that it’s no thanks at all to the Oakland Police Department that we don’t have any war martyrs on our hands today.”
The next speaker was a man I recognized from the previous day when we’d met at the BART station and marched downtown. He could’ve been about forty-five.
“My name is John Reimann, I’m a 35 year resident of Oakland and an [ ] member of the Carpenters Union.” He took the mike in his hand and instead of facing the panel of council members, he turned to face us, and said, “I want to address myself to my brothers and sisters out here.
“What we saw yesterday morning was not some accidental overreaction of the cops. What happened was that the corporate elite and their mouthpieces, the politicians—the Republicans and the Democrats got together, and they realized we were going to see increasing turmoil and increasing struggle on the part of working class people, like we have in Oakland, as we are made to pay for this war and pay for their economic crisis. And they are experimenting with new and more effective means of crowd control. That is, put us down—that is what happened yesterday morning. It was an experiment to see if such tactics work.”
John was followed by a man in his mid-twenties.
“Hello, my name is Jeffrey Crow Bolt. I work with East Bay Food-Not-Bombs. I was serving food to the picket line at the second APL gate when officers announced that we had two minutes to disperse. By the time we’d moved our pots of oatmeal across the railroad tracks to places not owned by APL, officers had begun throwing percussion grenades and firing the first salvos of bullets. I was struck a total of nine times that day.”
Jeffrey lifted up his shirt to show a baseball-sized bruise on the upper right side of his chest. Then he continued.
“We picketers were dispersing, as ordered. Officers were firing into us as we were proceeding to the only exit available to us, which was several miles away. … [Police] were firing on picketers, later on traffic which had nothing to do with the rally.
“That was the beginning of wave after wave of police assaults on pickets nonviolently exercising our First Amendment rights. Officers made statements like, ‘It’s illegal to protest in Oakland.’—displaying a woeful ignorance of citizens’ rights and our Constitution.”
“Thank you, Sir,” cut in Ignacio, but Jeffrey was determined to finish.
“And at a time when we’re spending fifteen teachers’ jobs per bomb that we’re dropping, it is more vital than ever to allow our citizens to nonviolently exercise our right of dissent.”
“Thank you, Sir,” said Ignacio again.
Jeffrey withdrew and a woman stepped forward.
“My name is Andrea Prichett and I’m a member of Copwatch, and as a member of Copwatch I have watched for thirteen years while fake, phony investigations have proceeded as a method to try to placate the public, and I want to let you know today that the citizens of Oakland have grown far to wise to be thrown off the trail by some chief who’s going to investigate who? himself?”
Andrea then addressed the audience, warning us not to expect any serious investigation to result, and advised us, “Sue their butts off!”
The Oakland chief of police, Richard Word, had announced on the TV news that he was going to do an internal investigation of the event—which he later did, and it came out exactly as Andrea had predicted. Of course she wasn’t alone in her skepticism, and that’s why we were asking the Council for an independent investigation.
The next speaker appeared to be around forty-five.
“I’m Steve Stallone, a communications director for the ILWU. I’m here representing the international officers of the union. I’m here to register our dismay and our anger at the conduct of the Oakland Police Department yesterday. We’re disturbed by their complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of the demonstrators. We’re shocked by their use of excessive force and their militaristic response to a legitimate, nonviolent protest. And we’re angry at the way nine of our members were shot and injured while simply trying to report to their jobs. And the way one of our business agents, clearly identified as the union official on the scene, was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, hauled off to jail and held in custody for 18 hours.
“In the New York Times today, Chief Word was quoted as saying that the police dispersed the crowd at the behest of the terminal operators, APL and SSA. What kind of chilly message does it send to ILWU members when the police open fire on them under orders from the very employers who locked us out in the bitter struggle just a few months ago?
“Our union was founded on the blood of workers shot and killed by police. We didn’t tolerate those actions in 1934 and we sure as hell aren’t going to tolerate them now. We demand justice. We demand accountability. We demand that the City Council conduct an independent and through investigation into the events of yesterday. From this investigation we want answers. We want to know who decided that the police should arrive at this demonstration in full riot gear. We want to know who decided to arm the police to the teeth with these munitions. We want to know who gave the order to fire unprovoked and indiscriminately into a crowd of demonstrators, long shore workers and truck drivers. We want to know why an ILWU official was arrested and incarcerated.”
Ignacio reminded him that his time was up, but it seemed that Steve was finished anyway.
A man of about sixty stepped up to the mike. “My name is Bob Franklin. I’m with the Teamsters Union. I’ve been a Teamster for over thirty years.”
“Did I call your name, sir?” Ignacio interrupted.
The Teamster affirmed that he had, and resumed with what he was about to say. “I think it was an outrage what happened, it marks the beginning of a whole escalation of the violence against the trade union movement and against the people in the Bay Area. And I must say I want to know how long it’s going to take for action to be taken, and how many other acts of violence against the people in this community such as who demonstrated on the docks yesterday are going to occur.”
Bob then ceded the rest of his time to Michael Eisenscher, a man who also appeared to be around sixty.
“My name is Michel Eisenscher, I’m here on behalf of U.S. Labor Against the War, the Labor Committee for Peace and Justice, and I’ve also brought a statement from Walter Johnson, the head of the San Francisco Labor Council. Because of time constraints I’ll leave documents with you that state our position.
“I was there yesterday morning. And I have to tell you: There is virtually no justification for the level of force that was used. Our police are supposed to have gone through rigorous training in riot control and crowd management.
“What we saw yesterday—and it was confirmed by this morning’s Chronicle— was a preemptive strike. The Chronicle this morning quotes the police as saying they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to manage a larger crowd, and so they decided to attack in order to discourage others from doing likewise. What does that say about the Constitution of the United States?”
“Yes!” came shouts and cheers and applause from the audience. People sitting and stranding around me in the balcony were responding in loud support of what Michael was saying. “Yes! Yes!”
“I want to raise one other thing before I go. I want to know, and I think you should want to know, whether the state or federal government advised or instructed, or, made requests of the police to adopt a take-no-prisoners attitude with respect to this demonstration as an example for the nation of what we are witnessing going on around the world. Is this the kind of democracy we propose to set up in Iraq?”
This being an open forum, anyone who signed up to speak could do so, on any subject. So not all the speakers were here to talk about the police attack. An earlier speaker had talked about a local environmental problem, and another person spoke about difficulties that had been put in the way of an upcoming Carijama festival and requested that it be allowed to be held as scheduled.
The last speaker was Kate Tanaka from the Green Party.
“I was present yesterday at the demonstration,” Kate said. “My specific request to you is that in the investigation that I’m sure you’re planning to do, that you find out: Who it is. Who it was that made the allegation that a stone was thrown. Find that person and question that person closely. Because I was there and I saw no stones being thrown.
“The other thing I wonder about is what I heard last night on the TV. Some spokespersons on the part of the police department said that they were concerned that the crowd was going to grow larger and that’s why they took this course of action. But in fact the crowd is going to grow larger! We want it to grow larger!”
Kate attempted to say more, but at that point her voice was drowned out by cheering and applause.
The half hour being up, it was now time for the council to begin with their scheduled agenda for this meeting. However, several dozen of our people had signed up to speak, and most of them hadn’t spoken yet. Of course that didn’t seem to concern Ignacio who’d already made statements to the media in support of the police. He’d begun the meeting by insultingly warning us that anyone who spoke out of turn would be removed from these chambers, and more than once he’d been insensitive to the point of being obnoxious. When he announced that it was time to proceed with the business of the evening, people began shouting, “This is the business of the evening!”
Ignacio told us to be quiet, and someone yelled out the old battle cry, “Whose street?”
“Our street!” chorused a hundred voices.
Then: “Whose meeting?”—“Our meeting!” Again and again we chanted, “Whose meeting?”—“Our meeting!” and that was followed by, “Whose city?”—“Our city!”
This went on for half a minute, and ended in applause. That is, we applauded ourselves. Ignacio did not applaud; he announced the meeting adjourned, put his coat on and headed for the door, with everybody now chanting, “Shame!”—“Shame!”—“Shame!”
But Jane Brunner took the gavel and reopened the meeting. She announced that a public hearing would be held in two weeks, and again explained the rules which prevented it from being held till then. As for this evening—and now she addressed her colleagues of the council—they could continue the open forum, but there was still the matter of the scheduled meeting, for which several people had shown up to present material.
Council members Jane Brunner, Jean Quan, Nancy Nadel and Desley Brooks briefly discussed how to handle it and decided that since the meeting wasn’t expected to take long, they’d do that first, and after finishing it, go back to hearing another hour of testimony from us.
Ignacio returned to take his chair, and the scheduled meeting began.
== *** ==
DURING THE RECESS
While the scheduled meeting was being held, most of us went out in the hall for a recess and discussed matters among ourselves. Some of us were studying photos which had been taken that day, and others were looking at a video from that morning which was now being shown on the small side screen of the video device. On it I could see the police attacking, and then suddenly the picture spun off as though the camcorder were suddenly dropped. “Was that where you got hit?” someone asked the videographer. She nodded and said, “Yes.”
It was only now, a full day and a half after the event, that I was really beginning to comprehend what had happened behind police lines. But it was more than just the enormity of the shootings; I was impressed by the courage these people had shown during that hour and a half under fire, regrouping each time to set up another picket line. Just not giving up. “Shock and awe” was a term coined by speechwriters of the Bush regime to describe their military tactics in Iraq, and it certainly applied to what the police had done here in Oakland, but it seemed to me that the most downright awesome thing about the shock and awe of April 7th was the fact that it had just flat out failed to overwhelm my companions.
I spoke with several of these people who’d been fired at on the previous day. Among them were two young women who looked to be around 19 or 20; both had been bruised. One of them was wearing a tank top which displayed a large triangular shaped design on the back of her right shoulder. It was about six inches across, and interwoven with red, black and yellow lines, in a way that I at first thought was some bizarre tattoo.
She’d been hit by a concussion grenade, she said, and showed me a piece of it which she’d retrieved from the scene. It was a black rubber cup, about the size of a baseball. From the description she gave, it seemed to be the same as those explosive devices that had made the loud airbursts I’d witnessed.
A third woman was a video photographer for the National Lawyers Guild who’d been hit in the leg by a wooden bullet; she was the one who’d been showing the videos. Nevertheless, despite their injuries, all three of these women had been among those of us who’d marched downtown the previous day, at one place forcing their way through a police line.
On hearing their stories, I just gasped and said, “Do you people realize how brave you were?”
“At the time I just did the only thing I could,” said one, whose name was Jessica. “I didn’t think I was being brave.”
== *** ==
THE REST OF THE HEARING
Eventually the scheduled council meeting was over, and the open forum resumed.
A woman in her twenties approached the mike. “Good evening, thank you for this opportunity to speak. My name is Kathy [ ]. I’m a resident of the Fruitvale district and I speak to you Mr. De La Fuente as my representative.”
Here in Oakland, council members are elected by district, and Ignacio De La Fuente is from the Fruitvale district. Kathy was reading from a prepared statement, and some of it was hard to hear as she read it quickly, a bit nervously at first.
“… I attended yesterday’s picket line to personally bear witness against war profiteering. I came to join what had been advertised and organized and indeed was a peaceful non-confrontational protest. In contrast, the OPD’s behavior was a violent abuse of power that many of us found deeply demoralizing.
“This council voted last year that the city would not implement certain measures of the Patriot Act because their violation of the civil liberties that we hold dear. Yesterday our own police department violated those civil liberties.”
The next speaker was a young man, also in his twenties.
“Hello, my name is Damien McAnany and I am using my minute as well as the time of this gentleman here,” he began, and pointed to a person in the seats behind him.
“Your name?” Ignacio asked.
“My name is Damien McAnany.”
“I was at the protest yesterday and serving in the capacity of a street medic. I was not part of the [group] that was actually fired on, but I did treat people who were shot and gassed by the police. I won’t go into those details because you can read from the police reports and hear from all the other people here just how brutal those attacks were.
“I want to cover some issues that perhaps have not been mentioned by some other people. I can’t say I’m tremendously confident in an investigation having real consequences. I would like to see that, I would be hopeful of that happening, but I know that bureaucracy oftentimes even with good intentions does not end up bringing about real consequences. And what I would consider real consequences would be criminal charges—“
“Yeah!” “Yeah!” could be heard from the audience, which had burst into applause and loud cheering.
“—being brought against the people responsible no matter how high up the people giving orders were, including people above the police department. I would like to see a real investigation of any connection with the federal government—”
There was more applause.
“And what would truly give me confidence in an independent investigation would be to see people actually lose their jobs over this.”—Applause—“I’d also like to ask the council what is going to be done in the meantime before this investigation to make sure that evidence is not going to be covered up and destroyed.”
After Damien, there were one or two more speakers, followed eventually by a young woman with whom I’d been talking during the recess—the one with the triangular bruise on her shoulder. In her hand was a package, presumably the photos we’d been looking at.
“Hello. I don’t have a whole lot to say tonight but I have a lot to show. I have—“
“Can you give me your name please?” said Ignacio.
“My name is Anna [ ].”
“Did you sign a card?”
“Did I? No I didn’t.”
“Sorry,” Ignacio told her. “You have to sign a card to speak. Okay? I’m sorry.”
Anna didn’t argue with Ignacio, she just began speaking. “My point is that I have photographs here, taken first hand of what went on yesterday, of what went on to nonviolent peaceful protesters at a legal picket and I would like you all to look at them because this is first hand what the cops were doing out there.” She held the package in her hand, waving it slightly as she spoke.
“I also would like to show you my—” she paused to set the photos on the table and turned around so the council could see the large triangular mark on the back of her right shoulder. “—I was hit with something called a concussion grenade.”
“On the back! I was extremely burned. It knocked my hearing out. I couldn’t hear for ten minutes! My ears were ringing for an hour. I was hit in the back while I was running away. At close range!”
Jim Webber appeared to be in his late seventies. He identified himself as a World War II veteran. He apparently had not been at the protest. He was an Oakland resident who was upset over the police attack, the war, and the current regime in Washington.
“We have an unelected president who’s taken us into war,” Jim told the Council. “The thing that’s really bothering me is the betrayal by the cowards in Congress who supported this thing. It’s yet to be determined how many local cowards we have—or heroes—if we have any, in the city government that will do something about what’s happening here in relation to this war. I understand that the police chief is a decent civilized guy but there is somebody in the police department who is not decent, not civilized, who gave the go ahead for these monsters to brutalize these people and I think we need to find out who they were. They committed a crime against us just the way that Congress committed a crime by letting this war go on. These people committed a crime against the citizens of Oakland and they need to be pinned down, identified and prosecuted.”
The protesters were of all ages. Johnny Nishinaga was in his twenties. “I was obeying police orders at every step of the way,” he told the council. “I was nevertheless shot. And my hand, right here—” and he paused to hold up his bandaged right hand, “—is fractured. A number of fractures, it’s fairly severe. I’m scheduled for surgery this Thursday.”
He added, “It seems to me that the police line that they were provoked is just flat out wrong. I was there the entire time and I didn’t see anything thrown.”
Another protester who got shot was a white-haired, elderly lady. Her name was Joan Rojas (or Lohas):
“My friend was in her 50’s, I’m 65. We started walking down towards the other docks, to see what happened, we heard that some people got shot down there. So we were going down there to see what we could see. We came past the ambulance, we saw all the people hurt there, then we kept walking. We didn’t see anybody so we started to turn around. A cop said, ‘Oh no, you can’t turn around. You just keep walking down where you’re going.’
“We said, ‘We want to go back to BART’
“He said, ‘You just keep walking down there, you’ll be all right. There’s an outlet down there.’
“We went down there. We passed the police. We viewed some protesters standing on the other side of the street. We walked over there. I no sooner got across, I happened to look back. I saw them putting their gas masks on. I had my coat in my hand because it was hot. I quickly put my coat on because I knew they were going to shoot. And they just started shooting. They didn’t say ‘disperse.’
“They didn’t say nothing. All they did was start spraying them things. They weren’t shooting in the air. They were shooting directly at people.”
Joan told of finding her way to a tunnel that went under 7th Street, and at that point Ignacio cut her off.
Joan was followed by David Clark, a fellow in his twenties.
“I learned a couple of really important things,” David said. “I know what state-sponsored terrorism looks like, and I now know more than ever the desperate importance of the freedom of speech, which is under direct attack.”
Lea Hess was a white-haired lady in her 60s, wearing a “NO WAR” patch on her shoulder.
“I went to the demonstration yesterday. It was peaceful despite the police claim that rocks and missiles were thrown at them. The evidence speaks differently. As well as my own experience there. … Most of the people were shot in the back.”
Lea went on to speak about the rules of civil disobedience, and how the police had misinterpreted them.
Jane Maxwell was a middle-aged woman.
“I was at the protest yesterday,” Jane said. “I don’t know the Oakland port layout very well so I don’t know exactly where I was. I think it was at the corner of Seventh and something. We walked in. I would guess it was about three quarters of a mile. There were people in a circulating picket. Very peaceful. There were police standing by them. It all looked very peaceful. It was suggested that some of us go this way and some of us go that way. I thought we were going to form some more of those. I sometimes think I should have a sign that says ‘Sissies for peace,’ because I stay on the sidewalk. I don’t cross when I don’t have the light. So I was walking on the verge as we walked down the side. I was conversing, I don’t even remember chanting. I was having a conversation with the people I was walking with. We were walking along. I heard no orders. The motorcycles revved up. They charged at us. That was frightening in itself. And then everything just burst. I mean there were flames and bangs.
“I picked up this while it was hot,” Jane said, showed a black object that looked like a piece of a rubber ball, and then motioned to someone in the seats behind her. “It was what she was hit with. I saw her on Seventh Street. It was much more dramatic when I saw her then because she was still wearing the shirt that she had been wearing. That area on her back that is red now. Her shirt had been vaporized. There was a crispy black edge around that.”
The “her” that Jane Maxwell was referring to must’ve been Anna, the woman with the bruised right shoulder.
Rafael Sperry was in his twenties and a volunteer for Direct Action. “If no action is taken against the Oakland police for their action,” he warned, “[many people] will get the message that what happened was okay. And it’s not okay. It’s very not okay. We were peaceful. It was wrong it was unjust and it was brutal. You the council represent Oakland and you need to send a message that Oakland does not tolerate police violence.
“Yes, we need an investigation. We need public input and control of that investigation. It should not be internal to the police. It must include the people and the workers affected by their violence. But right now we need to hear that the city council of Oakland denounces police violence. You can do that tonight. As you’ve heard, the whole world has been watching Oakland.”
Rebecca Kaplan wore a T-shirt reading: ‘Code Pink—Women for Peace.’
“I know that all of you know that just because George Bush says something doesn’t make it true. And I want to ask all of you to have the courage to know that just because Jerry Brown says something doesn’t make it true.”
The Police Mobile Command Post at the docks had been a paddy wagon, and one of the prisoners in it had been June Brashears, who’d been arrested by 7:30 a.m.
“Where I sat in the Paddy wagon there was an opening in the window and I could see through the front and I could hear what was going on over the police radio. And Officers L. [ ] and M. Powell engaged in the following conversation while I was there. When they talked about shooting the beanbags, M. Powel commented, ‘Oh yes, they should give me that. If I had that I’d be picking them off!’”
At that point Ignacio cut her off, telling her that her time was up. However, according to the rules in effect here, anyone who’d signed up to speak could give his time to another person, and someone in the audience called out to tell June that she could have his time.
Ignacio was still trying to cut her off, and the audience was now booing him. June ignored him, and turned to the person sitting behind her. “What’s your name?” June asked the fellow, then turned back and named the person who was giving her his time.
“No, no,” said Ignacio. “I’m the one who’s giving the time.”
“I think people want to know what Officer M. Powell had to say,” June replied firmly. “Let me finish.”
She continued, and Ignacio didn’t interrupt for a while.
“So then when the motorcycles were lining up, and over the police radio it said to the other motorcyclists, ‘Move forward and bump them!’ to which M. Powell then said, ‘Yes! Bump them! Bump them! Bump them!’ very excitedly.
“When there was a vehicle approaching on the right side, there was some discussion about it and M. Powell said, ‘Who’s this ILWU fuck?’ Within five minutes Jack Heyman had been pulled out of that vehicle and was in the back of the paddy wagon.
“I also listened to them strategize about who they were going to pick off, which mainly consisted of legal observers, which even with my view through the window of the paddy wagon, I could see the clear green tags saying ‘Legal Observer.’ The green tags [were] on their arms and they were writing down information, very much behaving as legal observers, when you would hear [the police] saying, ‘Her! The one in the brown! The one in the knit cap! Get her!’ And then the legal observer was put into the paddy wagon.”
Apparently the police had given no thought to the possibility that their prisoners might be observing them and telling about it later to an audience. One got the feeling that the Oakland Police don’t plan things very well.
Ignacio interrupted again. “I’ve given you more time than anybody!” he said.
“Okay,” June replied, but continued with her story. “My final thing is I was in jail with twelve women. Three of them were legal observers. One had been run over by a police motorcycle. One had been hit in the leg by a pellet.
“None of us planned on doing any civil disobedience or getting arrested. We all planned to engage in a legal picket.”
“Excuse me Ma’am,” Ignacio said yet again. “I’ve given you more time than anybody. All right?”
This time June stepped down.
It was, of course, Ignacio’s job as chair of this meeting to enforce time limits, and he had given June extra time. Nevertheless, he’d tried to squelch her from the beginning, when she let it be known that she had information from inside the police command post. It had been her assertiveness and the audience’s backing that got her message heard.
Ironically, there was probably some benefit to having Ignacio there. That was because most of the council seemed sympathetic, and without Ignacio present, we wouldn’t have had a bad guy for this part of the drama. It may seem bizarre, but one of the things I discovered in the antiwar movement was that when you’re trying to make a political point you are on stage and you are doing theater—even if you don’t like to think of it that way. A good script needs a villain, and for that role, Ignacio was well cast.
This hearing was broadcast on KPFA radio as well as Channel 10, and brief segments were shown on TV news. It looked very much like a session in the British House of Commons, especially the scene where Ignacio was walking towards the door with the audience chanting a chorus of “Shame!”—“Shame!”—“Shame!”
Judy Goff of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County was among the last to speak. She summed up how the unions, the ILWU as well as others, formally viewed the matter.
“Working people want to know why police would fire on nonviolent demonstrators and workers who were trying to get to work. They came to work on Monday morning, they found a community picket line, and they stepped aside in order to wait for the arbitrator to tell them if it was safe to go in to work. They listened to their business agent who told them, ‘Step back a hundred yards and stay out of harm’s way till the arbitrator comes.’
“It’s my understanding that the employer came. The employer called the arbitrator. This is part of their collective bargaining agreement. Immediate arbitration when they are faced with a picket line at the dock. This is a collective bargaining agreement. The way to handle it agreed to by the shippers and the union. These workers obeyed their collective bargaining agreement with every intention to go in to work if their arbitrator ruled it was safe. They stepped aside out of the line of the picketers, and waited for process.
“And instead, nine dockworkers came away injured. Five of them went to the hospital. And the business agent was sent to [the jail in] Santa Rita till 2 o’clock in the morning.
“I want to thank council members Brunner and Quan and Nadel for calling a meeting with the police chief and the city manager yesterday. I came as an impartial person. I just wanted to hear. I was not at the demonstration. I just wanted answers to why dockworkers who were waiting to go to work came away injured. [City Manager] Robert Bobb was there. [Police Chief] Richard Word was there. There were no satisfactory answers. I came away with more questions than answers. They remain unanswered.
“Why did the police go in with full riot gear, with gas masks and weapons of that nature? First thing, without any indication of any violence. Those people were out on the street by the port. There’s no way to be violent out there. There’s nothing to damage. This was another attack on the fundamental civil liberties and civil rights that we are supposed to be able to enjoy and that our country stands for.
“The police forgot that they are supposed to keep the peace and that they are supposed to protect people. They were not protecting the demonstrators and their civil liberties and they were not protecting the workers who were trying to go to work.
“I don’t know what the instructions were that the police commander did in the morning as the watch commander sent them off. But there was a mentality there. That they were going to show somebody something. And this demonstration wasn’t going to happen down at the port at the city of Oakland.
“And that’s a fundamental problem that has to be fixed. This town is better than that. The city council needs to do the investigation. You are our elected officials. We call on you, as our elected officials. To do the investigation. Hear all the complaints. Find out what happened to the police, and come back and tell us what went wrong and what you’re going to do about it. Thank you.”
Nobody spoke in support of the police that evening—not in front of the City Council, that is. But on my way to the restroom during the recess I saw TV crews interviewing a guy in a closet-sized niche just beyond the men’s restroom. It seemed like such an undignified place to hold a press conference—behind the toilet. Later that night, on returning home and watching the TV news, I recognized the man. He was police spokesperson Lt. Paul Figueroa, and he was telling the newsmen, “We know that rocks were thrown at police.”
== *** ==
Although most of the people in the previous day’s demonstration, including the organizers, were young, I noticed that about half of those on the speaking list were middle aged or even elderly. This is something you probably wouldn’t have seen back in the 1960’s, in an era when the antiwar movement seemed to be synonymous with youth culture and rebellion against the values of the older generation. There was something called “the generation gap” back in those days; it was a time when young and old had somehow ceased to communicate, and “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” seemed to be an underlying assumption if not a slogan. Such had been the pervasive culture of 35 years ago—but not today. No, not today, thank goodness.
The young people packed into the meeting chamber around me were certainly adding their voices to the hearing. They were applauding and shouting comments from the balconies, and many of those who took the mike and spoke from the floor were young. But they also seemed glad to have older people take a role in the presentation.
And it wasn’t just this evening; it’s something I’ve seen throughout the antiwar movement during the spring of 2003. Young and old seem to be pretty much on the same wavelength.
Although many unions had joined in the coalitions sponsoring the huge antiwar rallies of January and February, there was something new in this meeting tonight, something I hadn’t noticed or been aware of till now. That was the solidarity with the protesters being expressed by the trade unionists, every one of whom made it unconditionally clear that they saw the police attack on the antiwar protesters as an attack on themselves. “An injury to one is an injury to all” was the unionist attitude which was being expressed here today.
== *** ==
EVIDENCE OF PREPLANNING EMERGES
More facts and details came out during the days and weeks that followed.
Oakland has over 700 police; 165 of them were at the port on April 7th; 20 were members of Tango Teams—those equipped with the “less-lethal” weapons.
Less-lethal doesn’t mean non-lethal. Shell casings recovered from the Port of Oakland fiasco were printed with the warning: “Do not fire directly at persons or seriously injury or death may result.” These instructions indicate that they are meant to be fired at the ground and caused to ricochet. Nevertheless, photos and videos show police aiming horizontally at shoulder level on April 7th, and at least two persons were struck in the face. Many more were hit in the chest, back, arms and hands.
Casualties were much heavier than what I’d at first imagined. More than just a few people had been hit. Some were struck in the face, others sustained broken bones, and yet others suffered minor wounds which later turned out to be serious. Those hit included fifty protesters, nine longshoremen and two newsmen.
Five of the injured longshoremen were sent to the hospital. Crane operator Billy Kepoo was wounded in the hand and required surgery—a splintered bone was sticking out of the skin. Billy has been unable to work at his crane-operating job.
A freelance journalist, Ron Smith, who was not part of the protest, was also hit. A finger bone in his left hand was broken.
“I had my camera in my left hand up by my face when it hit me,” Ron told the Bay Guardian (4/16/03). “I’ve been in war zones. I’ve been in Columbia, El Salvador and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Some of the injuries that seemed relatively minor at the time could have lasting effects. Willow Rosenthal was hit in the calf. There was an article about her in the Tribune (5/25/03). “Rosenthal’s leg swelled immediately, but she figured it would go down in time. She went to the doctor and was told she had severe hematoma, but it would eventually subside. When the swelling didn’t go down, the skin and tissue began to die and turn black.
“Rosenthal spent ten days in the hospital. She had two surgeries under general anesthesia to clean the wound and receive skin grafts on a 4-by-4-inch area of her calf. The doctors called it a severe crush injury, she said. … She’s on disability from her job, where she helps train low-income women to open and run their own businesses.”
Contrary to what Police Chief Richard Word had told the media, less-lethal munitions do more than just sting the skin.
No police were reported injured.
Mayor Brown and Chief Word blamed it on us, claiming that protesters threw rocks, bottles, chunks of concrete, and metal objects similar to bolts or rivets at the police. That charge was denied by eyewitnesses.
And because of the many photos and videos from that day, it wasn’t necessary to rely on eyewitnesses alone. Videos were taken by protesters, National Lawyers Guild representatives, and TV cameramen. The police themselves had taken a two-hour video, which was eventually released in response to a public records act request by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tribune.
The Tribune (5/13/03) reported that the police video “doesn’t show objects being thrown at police, or any other type of physical attack against officers.” The Los Angeles Times (6/8/03) said, “Police officials have said they have videotapes that show protesters throwing objects at officers. But after releasing several photos and videos, police spokeswoman Ashford acknowledged that the images do not ‘necessarily’ show such attacks. The Times reviewed the tapes and compact discs of the protest and saw no instances of demonstrators throwing objects.”
It’s hard to believe that much could’ve been thrown without it being seen by witnesses or recorded on any of the films taken. Assuming, however, that an unseen person did throw a rock, then one must wonder why the police went on shooting for at least an hour an a half—as their own reports show. Did poorly disciplined cops lose their heads? Persons who panic that easily must be unfit to be police officers to begin with, so if the police stick to their rock-throwing story, they’ll invite questions about the quality of their personnel and the control that police commanders have over their officers.
Actually, I do not believe that police commanders lost control of their men. From videos, photos and accounts I’ve heard, as well as my own observations of riot police on Middle Harbor Road, it appears to me that that the police were functioning as units and clearly following orders.
The rock-throwing story is an effective sound byte, and it diverts attention away from evidence indicating that the attack was pre-planned. Many people have pointed out that the police probably would not have brought less-lethal munitions unless they intended to use them.
Evidence of pre-planning was also was given by Larry Wright, an APL employee who was one of the dockworkers in the port on the morning of April 7th. Larry gave this account to the City Council (4/29/03):
“When I got to work, the gate was blocked up and there were cars all the way down the street. So I pulled over to the curb quite a ways from the gate where I normally go in, and parked my car, and I was standing there.
“I walked up a ways toward where the gate was, and the demonstration was going on, and at one point the police split the demonstrators and started pushing a lot of them in the direction where I was standing. And when they got to me a police officer took his baton and started to push me, and I said, ‘Hey, I’m a longshoreman, I’m just here waiting to go to work.’
“So he seemed sympathetic and friendly, and he said, ‘Okay, but you better get in your car because we’re going to start shooting in a couple of minutes. And it really stings.’
“I thought at the time he meant tear gas because they had gas masks and stuff. But anyway, I got in my car, which was down the line a bit. The police kept pushing people. There was a line of police, when they got just about even with me, they raised their weapons up and started shooting. They shot a couple of these percussion grenades that made a lot of noise and smoke, and also a number of other projectiles at people.
“So I didn’t see anybody throw anything. I was right there and the police officer told me, ahead of time, they were going to start shooting in a couple of minutes—and they did. And I think it’s important information because I think they had the intent to do this shooting before it actually happened.”
Transcripts of police radio transmissions indicate the police were following orders when they shot protesters. An example is the shooting at the intersection of 7th and Maritime streets, which is about a mile from the SSA gates where the first shootings took place. A police radio conversation which took place at that point was reported in the Tribune (5/13/03):
“After one unidentified officer confirms the ‘Tango Team’ is present—referring to the group authorized to use less-lethal ammunition—one voice is heard to ask whether the protesters should be arrested or dispersed. ’Disperse them,’ was the reply, and the firing started again.”
So who authorized the police to go to the port equipped with riot gear and less-lethal weapons?
Statements made by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown which I quoted earlier from six different newspapers indicate that he either made the decision himself or at least wanted to appear as having made it. However, those statements, which came out during the first days after the attack, were not often repeated afterwards. For me, the mayor’s declarations don’t conclusively prove that he had a role in the matter; they only show that he was trying to present himself as a strong, decisive mayor—but apparently had second thoughts after it became apparent that the shootings inspired more disgust than awe.
In the newspapers we can find the names of relatively low-ranking police officials who were at the scene, lieutenants and a captain, but not the identities of the person or persons in charge. The remarkable thing is that no ranking police official seems to have been in charge of the 165 police at the docks on April 7th.
One might almost get the impression that the police were sent there more or less by accident and left to their own devices. Actually, it wasn’t done that casually. On April 4th, three days before the event, police met with shipping companies and port officials to plan a response to our upcoming demonstration.
It would be interesting to know exactly who attended that April 4th meeting and everything that was said and discussed—the minutes of that meeting. Those are among the items we’ve specifically asked our Oakland City Council to delve into.
In any case, on the morning of April 7th, company officials were at the scene. According to the Mercury News (4/8/03), “shipping company officials asked police to remove the protesters, and it was at that point violence broke out.”
The newspaper didn’t name the company officials who made that request. Fortunately for this attempt at reconstructing the events, there is another source.
The Police Mobile Command Post was in the same paddy wagon into which the police put their prisoners. In addition to June Brashears, one of the other prisoners was ILWU’s Jack Heyman, who, while he was there, identified SSA’s Kevin Mehlberg, accompanied by another SSA official, both wearing their conspicuous yellow-and-green company jackets. (Maritime Worker Monitor 4/18/03)
Kevin Mehlberg is the Primary General Manager of Matson SSA Terminals which is located at 3050 Seventh Street.
It seems incredible to think that 165 Oakland police officers could’ve been delivered to the docks and put at the disposal and under the command of shipping company officials—it sounds like something that would happen in a company town back in the 19th century. Nevertheless, it appears that Kevin Mehlberg and his colleague were running the show.
So what kind of a company is SSA? Stevedoring Services of America is the largest marine terminal operator in the United States and has received dozens of contracts from the Pentagon for military cargo handling at U.S. ports. It also controls the largest block of votes on the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) bargaining committee that sets the agenda for the contract negotiations, and it used its influence in an attempt to break the union.
SSA is a powerful, well connected company. Their lobbyist, Reginald “Reggie” Bashur, was an aide to Bush when he was governor of Texas.
In a Tribune Op-Ed article (6/17/03), Jack Heyman wrote, “Last year during longshore contract negotiations, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) representing shippers closed all terminal gates, locking out longshore workers and shutting down all U.S. West Coast ports from Canada to Mexico for ten days. Longshoremen protested by organizing picket lines, rallies and marches. After the PMA lockout, President Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act, forcing longshoremen back to work under employer’s conditions.”
During those negotiations, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge phoned the ILWU president, warning him that the Bush Administration would view any dockworkers strike as a threat to national security.
To hear it from SSA spokesperson Andy McLauchlan, the firm has a strong commitment to social responsibility. Regarding the contract to manage the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, McLauchlan told the Tribune (4/8/03) that SSA was not profiting from the war and instead was offering humanitarian aid. “It is sort of a social responsibility issue more than a profit for us,” McLauchlan said. He told the Chronicle (4/8/03), that the cargo SSA will be bringing into Umm Qasr will be three million tons of humanitarian aid, including food and medicine.
Referring to the April 7th event, McLauchlan told the Chronicle, “Our concern with this type of protest is the safety of our employees.” He said he knew of no injuries to SSA workers.
Although McLauchlan didn’t seem to know it, Billy Kepoo, the crane operator who was mentioned earlier, was an SSA employee. Billy told his story at a City Council meeting some weeks later, on April 29th. He was wearing a cast on his forearm, and said that until his injury healed, he was unable to work. SSA had denied him Workman’s Compensation.
So much for SSA’s humanitarian sense of “social responsibility.” My impression is that the company doesn’t care much about how their employees are treated, that they shoot their workers and then lie about it. In fact, they shoot everybody. And I do suggest that if someone were to call them the “archetype of entrepreneuring evil,” they might privately take that as a compliment.
It was on the public streets near and leading from the SSA terminal that nearly all of the shooting took place. As far as I can tell, no shooting took place near the APL terminal. That may have been due to chance, or it may have been by design. I have speculated that the two companies may have had different policies, that perhaps APL did not want violence at its gates, but SSA did, and did it to make a point. Be that as it may, SSA is where it happened.
The lords of SSA must’ve thought that by showing some real violence—shock and awe—they would be rid of us once and for all and never see us at their gates again.
== *** ==
ACTIONS AGAISNT OTHER WAR PROFITEERS
By the evening of the first day the world was looking askance at the Oakland Police Department, and by the end of the second day, the City Council had heard our story. Four of the eight council members were calling for an investigation, soon to be joined by a fifth. Congresswoman Barbara Lee had written a letter to Mayor Jerry Brown in which she requested a report on the actions of the police. How this might end was not at all certain, but it was immediately clear that April 7th would not be forgotten soon.
Meanwhile, Direct Action continued with plans to hold the next action the following Monday; this would be at the Chevron Texaco in San Ramon. I wondered if police there would follow the lead of the Oakland Police Department and use Tango Teams with “less-lethal” weaponry.
I didn’t attend. That’s because I’d been summoned for jury duty. That morning I anxiously watched the TV news as televised reports came in, showing scenes from San Ramon. Several hundred protesters showed up for the event and things appeared to be going well as I went to the courtroom.
The next morning’s Chronicle reported that the protest at Chevron Texaco “was generally peaceful with protesters and police praising each other for restraint.” It was a relief to hear that the San Ramon police had chosen not to follow the lead of the Oakland Police Department. It’s also possible that Chevron Texaco had some input on the matter and decided that they’d prefer to be shut down for a day than get involved in a Port of Oakland type of event.
The week after that a protest action at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale was also achieved without violence. There were no reports from anywhere else in the country of police using Tango Teams against protesters—at least not for the moment.
Nevertheless, the events of April 7th had made us acutely aware that our First Amendment rights were in danger. Oakland was where those rights had been violated most egregiously, and so Oakland was where we had to defend them. We had to show that we would not be silenced.
I waited to hear what our next move would be.
== *** ==
THE PORT GIVES GOOD NEIGHBOR AWARDS
Meanwhile, back at the port. On March 7th, a month prior to the April 7th demonstration at the docks, port officials put out a press release, announcing their first annual Good Neighbor Awards program. The intention, according to their press release, was “to honor those individuals, groups and businesses that mirror the Port’s mission of improving our surrounding communities by making positive, sustainable contributions.”
That press release was issued just as the war was expected to begin. The timing is intriguing. Something had inspired the port officials to institute this program, and it’s not hard to guess what it may have been. They were probably hoping to improve their image by deflecting criticism of the fact that munitions for the Iraqi war would be shipped through the port, and they were probably anticipating unfavorable responses by the ILWU.
They had already invoked the ire of the ILWU during the summer and fall of 2002, when the dock workers had been locked out by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), as well as threatened with an injunction of the Taft-Hartley anti-labor act, and an intervention by Tom Ridge of Homeland Security. Although the lockout had been aimed at the longshoremen’s union, it had also hurt the local economy.
So port officials had good reason to do some PR.
The awards ceremony was scheduled to be held on April 23rd at the Jack London Aquatic Center in Oakland. $1,000 checks would be given to about four award winners, and Oakland Police Chief Richard Word was to be the keynote speaker. At that time Chief Word was much more trusted and respected than he has been since. In fact, he probably looked like an excellent choice.
Even if the port officials had second thoughts about their keynote speaker after the events of April 7th, it was probably too late to remove him. And so when the ceremony was held, exactly two weeks and two days after the shootings, it went as scheduled, with Chief Word the keynote speaker.
The Tribune (4-24-03) reported that Chief Word “called the gathering a ‘leadership forum’ and [he] added, ‘it isn't easy to make a difference ... it takes courage.’ Word said all the nominees ‘give strength to our social fabric and you motivate others ... and you are often under appreciated and overlooked.’”
The incredible irony of the whole thing was certainly underappreciated and overlooked by the Tribune. However, columnist Gary Turchin of the Montclarion, writing a few days before the event, remarked, “Hopefully [Chief Word] won’t be showing off any of his neighborly ‘non-lethal’ weaponry there.”
== *** ==
THE LABOR UNIONS HOLD A RALLY
On Saturday, April 26th, not quite three weeks after the April 7th event, the labor unions held a rally at Jack London Square in Oakland to protest the shooting of workers and protesters. The speakers included Judy Goff, Shelly Kessler and Walter Johnson, of the Alameda, San Mateo and San Francisco labor councils, respectively. Teamsters Joint Council 7 President Chuck Mack and California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski also spoke, as did persons from Clerks Local 34, Warehouse Local 6 and the IBU.
Joel Tena was there, representing Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, and also among the speakers was Father Bill O’Donnell, who’d just been released after doing six months in federal prison for trespassing at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas.
ILWU Local 10 President Henry Graham introduced four of the longshore workers who’d been shot by police that morning. Graham criticized Mayor Jerry Brown for his support of the police tactics. “Today we will send a message: Do not mess with demonstrators, and do not mess with labor,” Graham said. He, along with others, called for an investigation.
Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Fred Pecker said a few words about the man for whom this square was named—the working-class writer Jack London. “The Iron Heel was my favorite book,” Pecker said pointedly. “It describes the rise of fascism.”
The ILWU had received letters of solidarity from unions around the world, including the Brazilian Trade Union Federation, the London-based International Transport Workers Federation, dockworkers of Compagnia Unica in Genoa, Italy, the National Council of Dockworkers’ Unions of Japan and the All Japan Dockworkers’ Union, and the European zone of the International Dockworkers Council.
One of the solidarity letters was read by Clarence Thomas, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 10 and also chairman of the ILWU Anti-War Action Committee. The letter was from dockers in Bangladesh who had recently defeated a $450-million dock-privatization plan which SSA had attempted to impose upon them and their port—SSA again, they seemed out to plunder the world.
There was a march to the Oakland Civic Center Plaza where the rally was continued.
The organizers seemed to have saved their punch line for the end. Among the last to speak was Jack Heyman, the ILWU business agent who’d been arrested on the 7th.
Heyman was brief, but pithy. There were lessons to be learned from “this iron heel of repression,” he said, and reminded us that Mayor Jerry Brown, who’d condoned the police attack, was a Democrat—not some rightwing Republican.
“This is yet another glaring example of the bankruptcy of the ILWU’s, and organized labor’s, policy of supporting and funding the Democratic Party. The actions of Mayor Brown and those of Senator Feinstein, who was the first politician to request that Bush invoke Taft-Hartley against the ILWU during the employer lockout, need to be exposed. The ILWU needs to quit wasting time and money on politicians that serve only the interests of big business,” Heyman said. “We need to build a labor party and run our own candidates.”
But Heyman wasn’t finished. He then went on to say that that when those shipping companies step out of line, as they had on April seventh, there is just one way to deal with them. “You have to shut them down,” he said.
The speaker following him was introduced as Sasha Wright, a person from Direct Action. I recognized her from April 7th as one of the persons with a bullhorn who’d directed our meeting at the BART station plaza when we voted to march downtown. I’d been impressed by her competence during the stressful conditions of that day.
She spoke briefly, looked around the gathering, almost hesitantly for a moment, drew in her breath, and then told us that Direct Action was considering a return to the docks. No decision had been made on it yet; it was still under consideration, but she asked us, “If we were to go back, how many people here would be willing to go? Could I see your hands?”
A sizeable number, perhaps half those present, raised their hands. Cheering followed.
Sasha was the last speaker, and was followed by a guitarist, David Rovics, who sang, “Shut them down!”
== *** ==
A COMMUNITY FORUM ON POLICE VIOLENCE
The next Monday, April 28th, there was a community forum on “Ending Police Violence at the Port and in our Communities,” which was held at the First Congregational Church of Oakland. It was a full house, some 200 people.
Many of the speakers were becoming familiar to me. Some, like Sri Louise and June Brashears, were individuals who had taken part in the April 7th demonstration and were here to share their experiences of that morning. Judy Goff represented the Central Labor Council of Alameda County, Clarence Thomas and Jack Heyman represented ILWU Local 10. Joel Tena, aide to Nancy Nadel, was also there.
In addition, there were speakers from the National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the Green Party, and Direct Action.
The introduction was by Rebecca Kaplan. June Brashears repeated her account of being inside the police command post, and a letter from Congresswoman Barbara Lee was read. Jack Heyman ended his talk saying that one of the demands was that the police drop charges against all who were arrested that day, wryly adding, “Including myself.”
There was also a group I hadn’t heard from before, the principal community group which was hosting his forum, called PUEBLO—People United for a Better Oakland. It was composed mostly of Latinos and Blacks. Many of their speakers were African American women, some of them grandmothers. Several members of this group brought up the issue of citizen abuse by Oakland police officers, abuse that continued after Mayor Jerry Brown took office.
A woman named Jill told of a time, some years ago, when she’d brought Police Chief Richard Word to their office and shown him a database on police brutality. “The names that came up,” she said, “were over and over, the police officers who had continuously beat and abused people.”
The chief had listened to the problem, but had apparently done nothing about it. The problem continued.
Hearing of that, I wondered how many of policemen whose names had come up over and over on that data base had also been at the docks on April 7th. Could Officer M. Powell be on that database? And what about the officers who did the actual shooting?
Gwen Hardy summarized PUEBLO’s position by saying, “We have been trying to get what we would call a professional Citizens Police Review Board. We have worked diligently, and we have made some improvements,” she said. “But…”
Creation of the Citizens Police Review Board had been a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t being kept up. In fact, it was being incapacitated.
The meeting concluded with the showing of a half-hour documentary of that violent morning, Shots on the Docks, by Kazumi Torii and Steve Zeltzer of the Labor Video Project. It was a poignant film which put the April 7th event in perspective, with scenes of the shooting interspersed with flashes of footage from the war in Iraq.
So diverse groups, who perhaps had been hardly aware of each other’s existence, were now speaking together at forums and comparing notes.
== *** ==
A FORMAL HEARING AT THE CITY COUNCIL
The public hearing of the City Council took place the next afternoon, on April 29th. The April 7 Response Coalition had issued a two-page statement which was given to the council and distributed among the audience. It began, “We are Oakland residents, community organizations, and labor unions speaking out in response to the unprovoked and unnecessary violence inflicted by police on peaceful protesters, and on workers standing by, at the Port of Oakland on April 7, 2003. In addition, we are speaking out more broadly about the behavior of the Oakland Police Department, because we see the events at the port as part of a pattern.”
Our statement called for an independent investigation to determine, among other things, the names of all responsible parties who ordered the police actions. We wanted to know specifically the roles of the shipping companies, of Mayor Jerry Brown, City Manager Robert Bobb, Police Chief Richard Word and port officials. And, were the Department of Homeland Security or any other federal agencies involved?
Ninety eight people had signed up to speak, and most of them sat in the floor area below. I took a seat in the balcony where I could get a good view of the proceedings.
The council members sat in the semicircular panel at the front of the chamber. I’d been reading their statements in the press for the last three weeks, so I knew the positions of most of them. Jane Brunner and Nancy Nadel were the principal persons who’d called for this hearing, and they’d already stated their intention to ask for an investigation. In this they were supported by members Jean Quan and Desely Brooks. Danny Wan had also indicated that he’d support them. Missing from this meeting was Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who backed the police.
Today’s meeting was being chaired by Larry Reid, one of two council members who hadn’t taken a public stand. He opened the hearing with this:
“Let me just read this from the city attorney’s office: ‘Due to the liability and personnel issues related to the April the 7th 2003 event, the city attorney recommends the following ground rules for the conduct for this meeting on April the 29th: That there will be no testimony from our offices, no admissions against interests, no fact finding—’”
The chair was briefly interrupted by derisive laughter from the audience.
“‘—no legal conclusions, and no cross examination of our police officers,’” he finished.
This was a disappointment rather than a surprise. From the very beginning, Council President Ignacio de la Fuente had tried to silence the matter, and one of his devices had been to warn council members that there would be lawsuits—which was true, two lawsuits had already been filed, and more seemed likely to follow. However, the facts of the attack itself were well documented. What was not known was the involvement of the mayor and the city manager, and others who may have been behind the attack. Under the guise of protecting the city budget from lawsuits, the city attorney’s “no fact finding” ground rule was a transparent device to protect those suspected of having authorized the police actions. It was a city-level version of hiding behind “national security.”
Exactly how the City Council had been maneuvered into accepting such ground rules wasn’t clear. Some of the council members had apparently opposed them, but their objections obviously hadn’t carried the day.
Those limitations applied only to the police. Our people could say whatever necessary, and as the proceedings began, our testimony was prefaced by a showing of Shots on the Docks, the documentary which had been presented the evening before at the community forum.
Testimony began with Scott Fleming, an Oakland resident and attorney. He’d been shot five times with wooden bullets on April 7th, and he began by reporting the situation at the docks and the peaceful nature of the demonstration, then went on to describe the reaction of the police.
“. . . When the police arrived on the scene, all of them were wearing gas masks, and a number of them were armed with what we later learned were wooden bullets, beanbag-firing shotguns and grenades.
“. . . I can only surmise that the Oakland Police Department would not have arrived at the demonstration with this type of weaponry unless they had a pre-planned intent to use it.
“. . . for no obvious or apparent reason, the morning quiet was pierced by explosions as the Oakland Police Department opened fire on the crowd. Neither I nor anyone else I have spoken to is aware of any act on the part of any demonstrator that could have provoked this violence. …
“Chief Word also told the Contra Costa Times that his decision to shoot at us was influenced by one of the shipping lines. According to the Times, Chief Word said that, quote, ‘APL told us that you have to clear the property.’ This sounds frighteningly like Chief Word allowed American President Lines to assist him in deciding when to use force against the citizens of Oakland.”
Scott concluded by mentioning the recent Rider scandal and last year’s Judy Barry verdict, to remind everyone that this police problem wasn’t an isolated incident.
“I’d like to thank my God that what hit my hand did not hit my head,” said the next speaker, Billy Kepoo. His right forearm was bandaged.
“I’m 37 years old, been on the waterfront fourteen years. I’m a member of Local 10 of the ILWU. I drive a crane, as they say. In fact, I’m a steady crane operator for them. I have a family of four kids, a wife. I say this because we are more than just protesters and workers. We’re people. People who have families and hopes and causes.
“My cause that April seventh morning was to go to work to fulfill the hopes of my family.
“. . . I heard the gunshot without warning that broke my thumb. An open-bone fracture that sent me into surgery that night. I’ve been out of work since then. The company that I drive a crane for, SSA, has denied my worker’s comp claim.”
The audience responded to this with shouts and boos for the company, SSA.
“… I saw a peaceful protest. I saw people complying. Yet, [the police] fired without warning. And then on top of that, they didn’t even have any medical, no ambulances, no fire department. My hand was bleeding. I was in pain. And there was no one to, like, assist me of a medical profession.
“They just rolled right on through. I question why that decision was made. I question why there was no warning. And if there was any collaboration with the company, then I question why we were left, the longshoremen, the workers were left to be out there. To get hit.”
Eric Shaw identified himself as an ex Marine and veteran of the First Gulf War. Now he’d been through this experience, where he was shot in the leg while exercising a constitutional right.
“In 1990 when I joined the Marines I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
He didn’t name those domestic enemies, but we all knew who they were, and we cheered and applauded him.
“I take that oath serious. …”
Eric laid it on pretty thick, with the kind of stuff you’d sort of expect a gung-ho Marine to say, except that he was gung-ho antiwar instead of gung-ho pro-war.
“We need to become a better America,” he said. “And until we do, real patriots will take to the streets of New York and of Chicago and of San Francisco and of Oakland.
“And on May 12th, between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. real patriots will meet at West Oakland BART station and we will take to the streets and we will wage peace. Thank you.”
May 12th? This was the first I’d heard of an event set for May 12th, and I wondered if that might be the day of our return. Had Direct Action finally set the date? During the course of the meeting, there were several more who mentioned the 12th.
Sri Louise stepped up to the microphone.
“I would also like to thank my God because I was hit in the face and I wasn’t killed,” she said. “There has never been a more poignant time for the city council to assert its political conscience. … There is too much documentation for the city council to remain immobile. …”
As an example, she told of some video footage. “In it you can see that I and the woman that I was with are following dispersal orders, and as we’re running, you also get, Oakland city police following me, I’m out of view, and you hear the shot, and I think you’ve all seen this—” she held up the photo of herself.
The next speaker limped up to the stand with a cane. “My hand and my shoulder were broken by the Oakland Police,” he said.
He was followed by Stan Woods, a member of the ILWU Local 6 who’d also spoken at the open forum on the eighth. In addition to investigating the roles of the shippers, Stan wanted to know if Tom Ridge of Homeland Security might’ve had any part in the decision making.
“We know about Tom Ridge’s notorious phone call to our international [ILWU] president during the longshore lockout, threatening unspecified actions on grounds of national security if the lockout became an actual strike, which it never did of course. But there was a strong and implicit threat. Did they have some role in this?”
Stan finished and the next speaker stepped forward.
“Good afternoon, my name is Jack Heyman. I’m a business agent with ILWU Local 10, and I was on duty that morning when police opened fire. The facts are these: that the Oakland police department met with the port of Oakland and the shippers in a private, secret meeting on April 4th. We know that for a fact. They’ve admitted that. The union was excluded and we want to know why.
“The Port of Oakland is the economic engine for the whole Bay Area. It’s critical for all of us. At the same time the Bay Area is one of the most progressive areas in the United States, where civil liberties has been cherished for a long, long time. It’s a part of our culture here in the Bay Area. In 1937, Chinese students demonstrated on the docks in San Francisco against the shipment of scrap steel to Japan, in protest—”
Jack was interrupted by applause, but he turned to us and said, “I’d appreciate no applause, I just want to speak.
“—in protest against the Japanese government’s imperialist policies against China. Longshoremen honored that picket line.
“There’ve been many times since that incident, since that protest that there’ve been demonstrations on the docks in the Bay Area, most notably in San Francisco and more recently in Oakland.”
Jack then mentioned one of Mayor Brown’s rationales for the attack, the traffic tie-up. “Jerry Brown himself participated in such pickets at the port of Oakland, for instance, in 1997 when there was a solidarity picket line in support of the Liverpool dockworkers who had been sacked. In that case the trucks were blocked. Mr. Brown was part of the blockade. The trucks were backed up for some time. But of course at that point he was running for mayor; he wanted to show his labor credentials.
“I want to make my remarks brief because I know there are a lot of other speakers. This kind of police brutality is unprecedented in recent times. It’s not unprecedented because in 1934 our union was founded because the San Francisco police shot two strikers during the maritime strike. That provoked a general strike, and a strike up and down the West Coast.
“In 1946 police provoked a situation here in Oakland that led to a general strike, and, if police in Oakland continue to conduct themselves the way they’ve been doing, you’re going to see more strikes against the governments in these cities for people demanding their civil liberties, their rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. That’s what it’s going to come around to again.
“We’re in convention now,” he said, referring to the ILWU convention that was being held in San Francisco. “And we intend to deal with this situation, which we take very seriously. We are not going to let our civil liberties and our civil rights go unchallenged.
“In conclusion I just want to say that the charges against all the demonstrators, and including myself who was arrested at the time, arrested for trying to do my job as a union official, to warn my members to get out of the area because the police were out of control. They were shooting our members and they were shooting demonstrators. And for that I was pulled out of my car, thrown on the ground, stomped on by four police officers—and this is on tape, it can be verified—handcuffed and thrown into a paddy wagon and taken with the other protesters to Santa Rita. We were in police custody for 18 hours. The charges should be dropped.”
By now we’d forgotten that Jack had requested no applause, and were applauding enthusiastically.
“Two last points. Number one, the person in charge for this atrocity, police Chief Word, should be fired.”
There was more applause, and, followed by even more when Jack finished by saying, “And Jerry Brown stands before us as the biggest hypocrite in the Bay Area and he should resign.”
“Hi, my name is June Brashears,” began the next speaker, and once again told the story that Ignacio had tried to squelch at the open forum some three weeks before.
This hearing was divided into three hour-long segments, and the last to speak during the first hour was Margaret Gordon, an elderly African American lady. She, with four of her grandchildren, lived at the intersection of 7th and Willow, where some of the shooting took place. There was also a daycare center in the building, she said. “It could have been easy one of those kids who got hurt that day!”
She reminded the council that the police were supposed to protect the citizens of Oakland. “The demonstrators? They weren’t protected! And what about us?”
The second hour began without a recess. Chairperson Larry Reid introduced it by saying, “I know this is a very emotionally charged hearing, but I hope we’ll still be respectful of each other. So now I’d like to call Chief Word.”
At first there was silence as a well-built man in civilian clothes entered the chamber and walked up to the mike, but that silence was soon broken by a brief chorus of boos. One might consider it the negative equivalent of the enthusiastic applause given to the other speakers. It was the first time I’d seen Chief Word in person.
“Good afternoon, chairperson, members of the committee. For the record, Chief Richard Word. The Oakland police department supports and will vigorously defend the right to free speech—”
Jeering briefly erupted in response to that. Most of us remained silent, wanting to hear what the chief had to say.
“—and the right to express views in a lawful and peaceful manner,” the chief said.
“Our plan going into the direct action at the port on April seventh was to facilitate a peaceful protest. Our plan was also to enforce the law. To achieve this goal we met with many organizations during our planning for the event. We were not sure what we could expect from some who participated in the action at the port of April seventh. We had reason to believe that some would engage in acts of civil disobedience. With this in mind, we planned to allow the protesters to block one gate at the American President Lines site along Middle Harbor Road. We would then facilitate truck and vehicle access into another.
“Our plan was to take use-of-force decisions out of the hands of individual officers. Instead, field commanders, those trained in our mobile field force concept were responsible for ordering use of less-lethal force—if force was threatened or actually used against officers. Our plan was to avoid individual confrontations and to disperse the crowd.”
The chief continued for some time, not revealing anything terribly important, but not saying anything very offensive either. Until—
“Our goal in this instance was to find the correct balance between the rights of those protesting and the rights of those trying to get to work and those trying to conduct lawful business. This is not a perfect science. But there were a lot of nice people who participated in the protest. There were some who were aggressive. I read some of the police reports. Some officers reported seeing nothing thrown. Some reported seeing objects thrown that fell in front of them. Others reported being kicked and hit by projectiles.”
“Liar!” The chamber was suddenly alive with boos and jeers.
“Excuse me!” chairperson Reid shouted into his mike.
“Richard Word!” called out a woman seated near me. “You should resign!”
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” shouted the chair. “Can the chief finish?”
The booing eventually began to subside, and people in both balconies began to call out, “Let’s hear what he has to say!”
Others were still booing.
“Shhhhh!” many were saying. “Shhhhh!”
And finally there was silence.
“Look! Can we have some peace and order in here?” pleaded the chair, now that the tumult had subsided. “Thank you very much.”
“If I could,” the chief said. “I’d like to read a few excerpts of a few reports. These are written by officers of different ranks, lieutenant, sergeant, and those of the rank of police officer, just a few excerpts if I could.
“‘Protesters continued to confront officers after verbal warnings and eventual pushes,’” the chief read from the report. “‘Individual members of the group grabbed officers, and kicked the police officers assigned to move them back.’ —please!”
One officer had reported an encounter with a woman who’d hit him “across the body and the arms with a sign that was attached to a one-foot by a two-foot board.”
“Where’s your evidence?” shouted someone. People seated in the floor below and the balcony around me were shouting questions and demands. Some were again chanting “Liar!”—“Liar!”—“Liar!”
“Please!” said Council Member Reid. As chair of this hearing, Larry Reid was in the difficult situation of presiding over a roomful of angry people who wanted straightforward answers. We felt cheated out of an important part of the hearing—at the very least, we’d expected to hear actual testimony from police officers who had been at the scene. These anonymous “reports” could’ve been written by anyone. And the chief wasn’t presenting any evidence to back his accusations. No photos. No videos. Nothing.
Mayor Jerry Brown and City Manager Robert Bobb, as well as port officials and representatives of the shipping companies, should also have been here to give their stories, but of course they hadn’t come.
We’d had to wait all these weeks for this hearing just to give Chief Word the time to prepare his testimony. It was both a matter of fairness to hear what he had to say, and also an obligation on his part to tell us his version of things. Instead, he’d done no preparation and was simply repeating the old rock-throwing stories which from the beginning had been fairly well discredited.
Why had he even bothered to waste our time with such? It was said by people who knew Richard Word, that he was an extremely likeable person, but not really qualified to be chief. He had no real standing of his own, and owed his position entirely to Mayor Brown. Presumably, if Chief Word wanted to keep his job, he had little choice but to come forth, stand tall in front of us and lie for the mayor.
The chief concluded his presentation, and, as he withdrew, we at this point hardly even bothered to boo him any more.
“Thank you Chief Word,” said the chair. “Now we’re going to start the third hour. Certainly this public hearing is a way for those of us on the council to be informed by hearing both sides of the issue.”
Did Council Member Larry Reid honestly think he’d heard anything of value from the chief? Probably not, and he’d even as much as told us that from the very beginning when he’d read us the ground rules from the city attorney which clearly said no fact finding.
The third hour of testimony began with Judy Goff of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County. She’d spoken at all of the forums and rallies relating to the April 7th event.
“Oakland has distinguished itself as the only city in the United States that has used these sorts of weapons, these non-lethal weapons, against picketers from the community and dockworkers,” she said, and went on to ask, “Why did the police meet with shippers and port representatives and not with representatives of the workers at the port the week prior to the demonstration? Why did police arrive in full riot gear, with gas masks and with their weapons ready?
“What precipitated the general strike in 1946 which lasted three days was that the police escorted scabs across a retail clerks’ picket line at Khan’s and Hastings, right here in Oakland. And when that happened, the entire city went on strike with support from the surrounding East Bay community and San Francisco. What came out of that was the historical agreement by the police that they would be impartial when there are picket lines. Now that related specifically to labor disputes, but it ought to relate to First Amendment rights.
“What the Labor Council looks at is that if this erosion of impartiality has come to this point now, what will it be when there is a labor dispute and a strike someplace?”
She concluded by asking for “an open and free investigation and that all sides are listened to. And that you come to some conclusions, and that the recommendations are not simply sent to the city manager or covered up in any way. This cannot be an internal review. The results need to be public and reforms need to be made.”
At each of the forums and gatherings and meetings, the various labor leaders had repeatedly, one after another, referred to the strikes of 1934 and 1946. Listeners, myself included, were getting an introduction to Bay Area labor history.
The next speaker was also a person who’d spoken at several forums and rallies, including the huge antiwar rallies of January and February in San Francisco. Clarence Thomas was a member of the executive boards of both ILWU Local 10 and the Central Labor Council of Alameda County. He was also chair of the ILWU Antiwar Action Committee.
Clarence Thomas suggested a connection between the events of April 7th and the waterfront lockout of the previous year, when Homeland Security had backed the shippers.
“Stevedoring Services of America was one of the most obstinate during our contract negotiations and they played a very key role in this, and, as everyone here knows, that company has been awarded a contract at Umm Qasr, Iraq. So we see a definite relationship between foreign policy and the war on workers and the attacks on our civil liberties here at home. There is a direct relationship.”
“We are concerned about Homeland Security having a role in this, and there has to be some reason as to why the ILWU was not invited to that meeting that took place on April the fourth. It’s very strange because normally in such occasions, our union is notified. Now we were contacted, but we were not invited to the meeting. So this investigation most certainly has to delve into that meeting. Who was there? And what was the agenda?”
Bobbie Stein of the National Lawyers Guild briefly reviewed the situation and said,
“The shocking testimony of those who were shot and indeed terrorized by the police that day along with the news footage and still photos of the day leave little doubt that the decision to use weapons was made long in advance of the actual demonstration. This was not a situation where police were forced to resort to an aggressive means in response to an angry or unruly crowd—not withstanding Chief Word’s excerpts from police reports that we heard a few minutes ago.
“By all accounts this was a peaceful demonstration that was met with excessive force in an obvious attempt to quell dissent and put an end to political action. This was a premeditated, preemptive plan to violate people’s First Amendment rights, to deter people from people from expressing their views on April seventh at the port, and to chill political protest in Oakland in the future.”
She was followed by Mark Schlosberg of the ACLU who spoke on the need to recommit to the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB). “The board is woefully understaffed, underfunded, and disempowered,” Schlosberg told the Council. “It needs to be invigorated so that when incidents like this come up there is not a question about how the independent investigation is going to happen.”
There were also two commissioners of the CPRB who spoke to the Council. One of these was Susan Raffanti.
“If there is an investigation, we are the body to do it,” she said. “We are the board that is appointed for the specific purpose of reviewing police action in the community.”
However, the board was trying to deal with a crisis of its own. The commissioner explained the problem.
“We have one investigator. The city ordinance provides that we should have between seven and eight. … I think the problem is the mayor, because he’s the only one who can who can appoint people to sit on this board.
“… I think that’s one of the reasons we’re here. I think that’s known to everyone, that there has been no effective citizen review [of the police].
“This incident at the port got a lot publicity, a lot of visibility, but unless it’s treated seriously on a long term basis …”
Another board member, Roland Walker, also spoke. They both told the council that the CPRB needed funding and personnel, and should have a role in the investigation of the April 7th event. These board members got enthusiastic applause. They impressed me as dedicated but frustrated officials whose mission had been sabotaged by Mayor Jerry Brown—the same Mayor Jerry Brown whom we’d specifically named as one of those suspected of giving orders for the April 7th shootings.
“Are you listening?” said Gwen Hardy. Gwen was a grandmother who’d spoken at the community forum the evening before and she was wearing a shirt with “PUEBLO” printed on it. She spoke about the police brutality, both that which had been going on year after year in her community, and also that of April 7th. “We’re here today to support the protesters and the workers in their demand for an independent investigation,” she said. Her group, PUEBLO, had been campaigning for years to have an effective, fully staffed police review board that would be permanently in place to deal with these problems.
“Nobody’s been listening! You’ve been hearing,” Gwen admonished the Council. “When I was growing up, my grandparents told me there is a difference between hearing and listening. See when you listen, you hear and understand what is being said to you.”
Another member of PUEBLO, an African American teenager took the stand.
“Hi, my name is Samantha and I go to Oakland high school and I’m 17 years old. And I want to ask the people in this room, the people who sit on this panel, and Police Chief Richard Word. How many people have to be victimized and ruined and, you know, killed, before something gets done about it?
Samantha told about the death of a friend, apparently a classmate. “When Jamam Owacko was beat black and blue, nothing happened, no justice was done for him. His brutal death. Those pictures of his face and his body, black and blue, are stuck in my head,” as Samantha said this, she broke down into tears.
“We support the demands, the ones you’ve already heard here, and we demand justice for Jamam Owacko and the protesters and for all victims of Oakland police violence. An injury to one is an injury to all and we will not tolerate it.”
Jim Chanin is a trial lawyer whose name was often in the Tribune, most recently during civil litigation over the “Riders”—four rogue cops whose lawlessness had exceeded the bounds considered acceptable by the Oakland Police Department. Their criminal trial was still going on at this time. Chanin had had successfully represented victims of the Riders in a civil suit and it had cost the city $10 million. Now it now seemed very likely that he’d soon be representing some of the people here today. This is what he told the City Council:
“You talked about not having the officers testify because of city liability. Well, the time to think about city liability is before you commit—”
His words were briefly drowned out by enthusiastic applause.
“I have been a citizen of Oakland for twenty three years,” he said, and briefly mentioned some projects the city was closing due to lack of funds. “… And one of the reasons is because this city spends more money on police payouts in liability cases proportionately than any other city with which I am familiar.
“And you are the only people who can stop it. You can talk about having your city attorney defend you. … You can have closed meetings with the police chief who will assure you that everything is right. But when you see what’s being paid out, you know it’s not right.
“One time, please, have the political will to do something about it. Because you may make fun of lawyers and other people who collect money, and think that these people are in it for the money or whatever. But I can assure you as an attorney for twenty five years, the African American women that I represented who lost their husbands to police gunfire did not want your money. These demonstrators do not want your money. They want the right to exercise their legitimate First Amendment rights!
“And it’s up to you to protect them.”
By now, time was running short, since the hearing was scheduled to end at 6 p.m. Ninety eight people had signed up to speak, and most of them still hadn’t spoken. The chair now instituted a time limit, allowing each of the remaining speakers only a minute or so.
Among those who followed was Lee Copenhagen, a person from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, who spoke on reconciliation. His message was one of doing the hard work required to sort things out—he conceded that it wouldn’t be easy and probably wouldn’t happen, but he wanted to express his hope.
Several different groups and organizations were represented among the next speakers. There were both officials and rank-and-file members of several unions, including the Building Construction Trades Union and also the University Workers Local 3, fifteen of whose members had been in the port. There was a Native American member of AIM who’d been shot in the leg that day. A member of the Green Party also spoke.
One of the very last to speak was the woman who’d introduced the speakers at the community forum the evening before. “I guess it’s now good evening,” she began. “My name is Rebecca Kaplan.
“You know I heard the police chief and the mayor saying, ‘We can’t answer any questions because we might be sued.’ Well, I think there’s a lot more to fear if the City Council doesn’t say anything. The chief of police has already admitted in the media that force was used intentionally, premeditatedly for the purpose of preventing political speech. No lawyer could dream of a better case than being handed that quote!
“In order to insure that the city of Oakland does not get bankrupted financially—which is a goal I share as an Oakland resident—you, the City Council, must condemn that action. You must say it is not city policy to use force to chill speech.
“You must say it is not city policy to use potentially lethal force. That means there actually have to be consequences for the people who did, so that you make it clear.
“There must be a genuinely independent investigation in the spirit of genuine discovery and mutual interest because the people who were injured and the members City Council share a goal of wanting a city that works, of wanting a police department that is respectful.”
Every one of these people had something to say, something worth hearing. But eighty speakers had not yet gotten their turn by the time the hearing ended at 6 p.m. It had been going on for nearly three hours, nonstop. Many wanted to continue the hearing so that more testimony could be presented. The Council said it this forum would have to end at six, but considered continuing the testimony on another day.
As the hearing came to a close, Council Member Jane Brunner said,
“I want to just go on record as saying that I’m really disappointed that the police chief was told by the city attorney’s office to not give us a through explanation of what the thinking was behind the police department.
“I’m also an attorney and so I understand the concern about litigation and I know there’s some people in the audience that are going to sue the city and I know we need to protect the funding. But being an attorney and being on the council, I think it’s more important at this moment that we deal with policy.
“Unless we understand what happened, we cannot fix it. … So I think I really want to encourage our city attorney’s office to release the police chief to be able to talk, and tell us what really happened. I think it would’ve helped all of you.
“I think the approach we’re going to have to take now is an independent investigation.”
Towards the end of the hearing, leaflets were distributed, bearing an announcement from Direct Action:
Nonviolent community picket for peace & justice at the Oakland docks—May 12th at 5 p.m.
So now at last we knew the day and the hour. But would a substantial number show up for our return to the port? There’d be good reason not to show up—the police might attack again.
== *** ==
NEGOTIATING WITH THE POLICE
On Friday May 9th, a conference was held in which Direct Action, community groups, and City Council members met with the police to get their cooperation. Chief Word did not want us back at the docks, and suggested as an alternative that we hold our May 12th demonstration on an isolated street outside the port—in a “free speech pen,” as we sarcastically dubbed it. But Nancy Nadel, Jean Quan and other council members advised him that if he used the police to keep us out of the port, he’d just be provoking problems. The meeting ended with a promise by the police to respect our rights and safety when we returned to the port on Monday, the 12th.
So, we had a firm commitment from the chief of police, but could we trust that commitment? The chief himself was certainly less than honorable, and there were also other less-than-honorable personalities who had control over the police. Among them was Jerry Brown, the man who liked to present himself as the strong mayor of Oakland, “If people try to take over the port for the sake of stating their opposition then we have a protocol we have to follow,” he’d told the newspapers after April 7th. Having made such inflexible statements, Mayor Brown wouldn’t look very strong if he bowed to pressure and let us into the port this time.
Not least among the less-than-honorables were the shipping companies themselves. We hardly needed to be reminded that APL and SSA did not want us at their gates, and maybe they thought they could handle our City of Oakland the way United Fruit Company treated banana republics. We also knew that somewhere in the dark corners of government there lurked an entity known as Homeland Security, headed by Tom Ridge. Mr. Ridge was an ally of the shippers, and we suspected him of having a role in the events of April 7th.
It’s a given fact that flesh and bones are no match for bullets, be they lead or wood. And it would seem logical to assume that given violence versus nonviolence, the violence is guaranteed to win. But I must say that on April 7th it didn’t seem at all as if we’d been defeated. Chief Word certainly didn’t look much like a winner when he stood tall in front of the City Council hearing on the 29th, making excuses to a resounding chorus of “Liar!”—“Liar!”—“Liar!”
The most encouraging sign was the silence of the higher echelons of state and federal government. There’d even been silence from the most vocal advocates of police state repression. Mayor Brown, along with a few other city officials, seemed to be singularly alone in their expressions of approval.
During the five weeks since April 7th, no other police department had followed the Oakland police example of shooting protesters, and it seemed possible that even Oakland police officials were now looking back and viewing their actions as a serious blunder. At least I hoped they did, and my guess was that this time nothing adverse would happen—but of course I had no way of knowing for certain. None of us knew for certain. We could only guess and hope.
== *** ==
MAY 12TH—WE RETURN TO THE PORT
Two weeks passed and the day came. At five o’clock in the afternoon I arrived at the West Oakland BART station, and in the plaza were a couple hundred people. More were arriving.
Along a wall was a large banner which read: NO WAR AT HOME, NO WAR FOR EMPIRE. Another banner was one that members of the Berkeley group, Vigil for Peace, had been displaying over a freeway bridge: WAR IS 4 PROFIT$.
There was also a band. I asked the name of it, and was told that it was actually two groups, Brass Liberation Orchestra, and Action Music Group. Here they were playing together as one. They’d also been at the docks on April 7th, though that had apparently been earlier in the morning and so I hadn’t seen them.
“Daniel!” someone called out. It was Mark, from the Lake Merritt Peace Walk, an activity which about twenty of us do every Sunday afternoon. Steve was standing next to him, and then I saw Randy and Cathy, also Laura and Tony, Ken and others who’d said they were going. A few minutes later Catherine arrived, carrying a sign with a painting of a ship and bearing the words: WE STILL HAVE SOME CIVIL RIGHTS. Bob Miller was there in his wheelchair; I knew he wouldn’t miss this.
There were people of all ages, young and old. During the course of this event I recognized many that I’d seen on April 7th. Sri Louise, was there, and so was Anna, the woman who’d been hit on the shoulder by an exploding concussion grenade. Both still bore black and blue marks from the previous event. It was especially encouraging to see them and others who’d been injured that morning but had not given in. There were of course a good many faces I remembered from that day, though I knew the names of only a few.
Some had brought their own signs, and for those of us who hadn’t there were a stack of pre-printed ones. I took one that read: STOP THE CORPORATE PROFITEERS. One woman had a handbag embroidered with: HELP THE POLICE—BEAT YOURSELF UP.
Leaflets were passed out with a map of the port, showing the two gates of APL and the three of SSA. This map was especially welcome; I thought of how confused I’d been during our previous time in the port.
Then a short rally began with a Direct Action person whose name was Antonia giving the general orientation. She said:
“Today we reclaim the right to community picket, free speech, and the right to protest as we stand up to the war for empire and the war at home.
“This is a nonviolent community picket, not a civil disobedience action. Our intent is not to risk arrest or blockade cars or trucks, but to keep up a lively moving picket line and encourage everyone to honor it. Everyone is urged to remain nonviolent and to support other picketers in doing so.”
She also explained a number of other things, including the negotiations with the police and their alternative offer to put us in a “protest pen” a mile from the port, an idea which the City Council had supported us in rejecting.
Among the speakers was ILWU’s Clarence Thomas, and Gwen Hardy from PUEBLO, as well as representatives from the Green Party and other organizations and unions.
Another speaker from Direct Action was Liz, who told us that a smaller support rally was being held at the SSA headquarters in Seattle, and that she was speaking with them now. She held the phone up to the PA system so we could hear some of what was being said, mainly greetings from the support rally to us. Although the sound quality was pretty bad and didn’t come through very clearly, the solidarity of our companions in Seattle came through loud and clear.
The rally ended and we set out with our band playing. We marched up 7th Street, then turned onto Adeline where we soon reached the Adeline Street Bridge and took up the entire right hand lane as we trooped across.
This was the same long bridge by which I’d entered the port a month earlier, but with quite a different feeling this time, marching across in the company of several hundred others and to the tune of a brass band. A couple miles behind us were the high-rise buildings of downtown Oakland, and below us was the railroad yard. Not being at the front of the column, I couldn’t see much of what was up ahead, but I remembered from the previous visit the seemingly endless rows of containers which stretched on and on.
Catherine wondered what we might encounter when we entered the port at the end of this bridge. Would the police really leave us alone and respect our rights as they had promised?
“I suppose we’ll soon know,” she said.
Those of us from the Lake Merritt group tried to stay together, but it was difficult, and most of us soon got separated. That’s the way demonstrations seem to work.
There were a large number of legal observers with us, members of the ACLU and the NLG. They were identified by their green armbands; technically they were neutral, but of course several had been shot and others arrested on April 7th.
We’d reached the end of the quarter-mile-long bridge and took up one lane on Middle Harbor Road. Semi trailer trucks in the other lane honked and waved peace signs as they drove by us. Some truck drivers had honked their support the last time too, but this time practically all of them did. They apparently knew we were coming today; presumably their union had told them about us. We cheered and waved at them in return.
Then we heard a piercing train whistle. “Is that for us?” someone wondered. We looked towards where the sound had come from and saw a train engine cruising along the railroad yard. The operator was waving at us with a two fingered peace sign, and in response, a loud cheer arose from our ranks.
We came to the first APL gate and paused. Some early picketers were already there. Someone over a bullhorn announced that we were now at the first of five gates we’d be picketing, and invited some to join the picket line. A few left our column and filled out the ranks of the picketers, and the rest of us continued on.
To the left of us were the same rows of containers and behind them the tall, alien-like cranes that I’d seen before. On either side of us was the brown, oily gravel. But today we were marching on the paved road, and being here today felt just totally different from last time.
Another quarter of a mile and we reached the APL main gate which I had helped picket before. Again we paused to augment the ranks of picketers who’d arrived earlier in the afternoon. This was as far as I’d gotten last time. It was here that I’d watched our companions of the other contingent as they’d marched on deeper into the port. Today I’d take that route myself, see those places and join the picket lines where the shootings had occurred—at the gates of SSA.
Most probably, APL was as responsible for the shootings as SSA. But SSA was where it had happened, and that was where I personally wanted to walk a picket line. We resumed our march, now filling up the entire width of Middle Harbor Road, and the music of our band filled the air of the port around us.
There was a row of trees to the right of us now; they were the only touch of green in this otherwise barren region, and it had been above these trees that I’d seen the airbursts. On our left were some buildings and a large sign that read: STEVEDORING SERVICES OF AMERICA. This was where the shooting had started. I recognized it from the videos.
More people left our column to join the picket line here. The third and last gate of SSA was another half mile down the road, and when we reached it, someone called out, “The scene of the crime!”
Of course there’d been eight shootings over a period of an hour an a half, and so this whole area was full of crime scenes, but somehow this particular gate, by being in the very deepest part of the port, seemed to personify the inner sanctum of these violent war profiteers.
People had been shot, at this gate as well as at the others, just for being here with picket signs. We stepped up to join the picketers who’d arrived earlier. We were reclaiming our turf, our right to hold demonstrations, as we walked in a large circle, chanting slogans. “Whose port?” called out someone over a bullhorn. “Our port!” the rest of us shouted back.
“Whose port?”—“Our port!”
“Whose port?”—“Our port!”
“Whose port?”—“Our port!”
Similar rituals were going on at the other four gates of APL and SSA. According to the newspapers, these shippers had claimed this as their private property. Middle Harbor Road and the other streets on which we had demonstrated were of course public streets belonging to the City of Oakland, and we were reclaiming them as such.
The Native American Indians had a war ritual known as “counting coup.” The idea was to touch an armed and dangerous enemy without physically harming him. The fact that Indian warriors would take risks to perform such a ritual seemed to puzzle most white people, and I must admit that I never understood it either—not until this day. Now I suddenly felt I understood it perfectly well, and I realized that’s what we were doing this afternoon.
I don’t know how the Indians counted coup, but the way we’d done it was to announce it well ahead of time, have it in the newspapers, broadcast it over the radio, and make absolutely certain everybody knew about it. Then march in with a brass band and set up picket lines. That’s something that can be understood throughout the modern world.
Those shippers had gone to the extreme of presiding over the shooting of six dozen people, presumably in the belief that they’d be rid of us forever. Instead, they’d set themselves up to become the focus of ritualized retribution.
Naturally we were doing this in front of cameras. The photographers and videographers who’d filmed our first visit to the port were with us again today. The Labor Video Project people, Kazumi and Steve, who’d made the documentary Shots on the Docks, were here. So was Jessica, the woman whose videos I’d watched at City Hall; she’d been injured in the leg by a wooden bullet and was barely able to walk that day, but she’d somehow managed to limp along to film us on our way downtown. By now she’d recovered.
TV crews from several channels were also there, and this was aired on the evening news.
The police where also here, of course; there were about a hundred of them in the port and Chief Word was with them. But they weren’t in riot gear. “We’ve tamed the OPD!” remarked one woman. Another woman, who was interviewed on the TV news that evening, said, “The police are behaving very well today.”
The company seemed to be hunkering down behind a locked gate, perhaps receding deeper into their bunker mentality. The port was pretty silent this day, except for us and our band. We continued to picket for two hours as the late afternoon sun sank lower in the sky, now shining directly in our eyes.
The people from Food-Not-Bombs, some of whom had been shot during the previous visit, were here with a lunch for us. It was sort of a vegetarian stew and apple water.
At one point Clarence Thomas of the ILWU came by and told us that a ship was due at these docks today, but that the company had kept it out in the harbor, presumably because of our demonstration. The delay would of course cost the company money, but the big thing was the psychological significance of our presence. The precedent we’d set. The fact that we’d asserted our First Amendment rights.
The sun continued to sink down towards the horizon, and, finally, team monitors from Direct Action and the ILWU told us it was time to fold up our demonstration and begin marching back the way we’d come in. So we set out, band playing. At each gate we came to, we did just the opposite of what we’d done coming here, the protesters at each gate we passed adding to our ranks.
This meant there were a lot more of us now. It looked to me as if there were as many as a thousand of us. Most newspaper accounts, however, including the Bay Guardian, which was sympathetic to our cause, said it was around 3 or 4 hundred. I think that’s an accurate number of those of us who marched in together, but adding to that the number of people who had arrived earlier as well as later, I’d say it was more like 500 to 1000.
As we marched back towards the Adeline Street Bridge, we exchanged congratulations. People who recognized each other from April 7th spoke to each other, saying, “Good to see you here!”
At this point our band struck up The International, and someone near me sang out the words:
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Arise, ye wretched of the earth,
for justice thunders condemnation,
a better world’s in birth!
We reached the bridge and continued the final half mile towards the BART station. It seemed hardly possible that everything could’ve gone this well, exactly as it was supposed to, and that nothing disastrous had happened. The police had kept their promise and hadn’t attacked or in any way bothered us—but of course we hadn’t known that going in. There was no way we could’ve known.
There was an incredible, almost stunning feeling of success, that we’d done it.
“Sometimes we do win victories,” Catherine said, as we were leaving the port, and that summed it up.
After we reached the West Oakland BART station, the band continued to play for another half hour, and people danced in the parking lot. It was now dusk and the evening lights were coming on.
== *** ==
FOUR CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS SHARED THE RISKS
It was some time after our demonstration of May 12th that I learned that four City Council members—Nancy Nadel, Jean Quan, Desley Brooks and Larry Reid—had accompanied us into the port that afternoon. They didn’t speak at our rally, and newspapers didn’t report their presence. Nor did I see them myself, but others did, and told me of their being there.
Nearly always, when politicians take part in a public event, they make damn sure they get noticed—recall, for example, Jerry Brown back in 1997, picketing in this port, without danger of attack but certainly on camera and running for mayor. Among the nationally best known examples was the previously unpopular mayor of New York who in the days after 9/11 became a “hero,” or at least a media hero, by constantly positioning himself in front of news cameras. And of course there was our unelected president, who just a week before our return to the port had donned a flight suit, posed for cameras, and was then presented to the world as warrior Bush. Well, that’s the way it so often works—but things were quite different here in Oakland on May 12th, when members of the City Council of Oakland quietly joined our ranks, entered the port with us, and shared the risks.
== *** ==
WEATHER NEVER ENDS
We had defended our 1st Amendment rights and won—at least for that round. “History is like weather, not like checkers,” said Rebecca Solnit, a protester at the docks on May 12th. “A game of checkers ends. Weather never ends.”
The next matter was to find out who had been behind the shootings. We had already asked the Oakland City Council to make an investigation into the events of April 7th, and had given them a statement of what needed to be looked into. We also specified who should be questioned This included city, port and shipping company officials who’d not in all cases been present at the scenes of shootings. We wanted to know who had planned and authorized the attack.
The city council responded to our request, and voted to have an inquiry. The logical body to carry out this inquiry would have been the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB), and we had specifically requested that the CPRB be in charge of it. Unfortunately, the CPRB was insufficiently staffed, and had a tremendous backlog of investigations, because Mayor Jerry Brown hadn’t made the necessary appointments.
The most obvious remedy would’ve been to provide the CPRB with a full complement of investigators and commissioners. That had been another of our requests. However, the city council was apparently unable to do that, possibly because the mayor himself was unwilling; instead, they decided to hire an outside panel, and the task of setting it up was entrusted to City Attorney John Russo and City Manager Robert Bobb.
But neither Russo nor Bobb was a disinterested person in the matter. The city manager was among those suspected of authorizing the police to attack us in the port, and we had stipulated that he was to be among those investigated. City Attorney Russo wasn’t on the suspect list, but he had been working all along to cover up the facts of the attack. He was the one who’d laid the “ground rules” for the April 29th hearing in which the police officers were not allowed to testify. There was a conflict of interest, and it was hard to avoid fearing that they would look for a way to sabotage the inquiry.
Their chosen panel included three retired judges, a civil rights attorney, and a former assistant police chief. These five panelists agreed to do the investigation pro bono, and their conclusions were to be made public in September 2003. The panel, however, didn’t have the CPRB’s power of subpoena, without which it couldn’t compel any of the suspects to appear and testify. These suspects included not only the mayor and city manager, but also company officials of APL and SSA.
When ILWU’s Steve Stallone asked what use the investigation would be without subpoena power, relating to our request that the port authorities and shipping company executives be questioned, the City Attorney’s Office said that the investigation would not go into the actions of the shipping companies. It was apparent that Bobb and Russo had set the investigation up in a way that would protect the culprits from scrutiny.
It seemed that the panel would be limited to doing little more than a rehash of the well-known facts and fictions of the morning of April 7th, and so what I expected to see in the final report would be little more an excruciatingly detailed minute-by-minute account of the attack. I wondered how the panel members might feel about their task of performing what now looked to be a superficial investigation.
Later, when the panel actually met, it only met twice, and behind closed doors. During their second meeting they decided to disband. This happened in August. The panel chairperson, retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell, said in a statement:
“The sheer number of plaintiffs and attorneys involved, the continuing threat of further litigation and our panel's desire to hear from all interested persons would so constrain our investigation that any report that we might ultimately produce would be of little, if any, value,” she said.
And City Attorney John Russo issued his statement, saying, “I sincerely wish the situation could have been different.”
== * ==