Human Rights

Undercover Cop Pulls Gun and Threatens Oakland Police Brutality Protesters

Another example of why the protests continue.

Photo Credit: via Twitter #oaklandprotest

(Editor's Note: This report has been updated with new developments at 8.30 PM PST on Thursday).

A white undercover California Highway Patrol (CHP) detective pulled a gun and threatened protesters at Wednesday night’s march to end racist policing and police brutality in Oakland, California.

He was seen losing his cool and pointing the gun at protesters and a photographer before other uniformed police arrived to arrest a black protester, as can be seen on numerous videos of the incident on the Twitter feeds, #berkeleyprotest and #oaklandprotest.

The incident was photographed and posted to storify.com and #oaklandprotest, where it quickly went viral. These Twitter feeds have been documenting the ongoing East Bay protests following the two grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, in which white officers who killed unarmed black men escaped facing charges.

Late Thursday, the Los Angeles Times extensively quoted California Highway Patrol Chief Avery Browne discussing the incident, where Browne concluded that "no one has provided any evidence that the officers were inappropriate in what they did."

Browne recounted his chronology of the event. He said the gun-pointing detective was one of several undercover cops posing as demonstrators at Wednesday's march in Oakland. He the detective said a fellow undercover officer had been "attacked" by protesters. He said the detective who pulled the gun told him, "Chief, I didn't know if I was going to make it out of this thing alive."

That line of defense--that a police officer is entitled to use deadly force while doing his job if he fears for his life--is the standard in law that absolves police officers from facing charges for harm caused by excessive force. That was seen as the legal linchpin that allowed two grand juries to exonerate the white officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island.

The protests across the country demand, among other things, that this standard protecting police who lose control and use excessive force must be changed. They say, as the LA Times' report indicates, that police who too quickly rely on deadly weapons know that they can say those magic words--they feared for their lives--and escape accountability.

The CHP Browne made another telling admission to the LA TImes, saying that many undercover officers were spooked by protesters who recognized that they were cops and called them out in front of other protesters. The Times wrote:

"The CHP and other law enforcement agencies have been using plainclothes officers to observe and gather information about the protests, and Browne said tensions have risen among officers as several protesters have posted pictures of themselves on social media claiming to be armed with handguns, rocks and explosive devices.

"Despite Wednesday's incident, Browne said he will continue to deploy plainclothes officers to gather intelligence from protesters. Officers have also been creating Twitter accounts, on which they don't identify themselves as police, in order to monitor planned demonstrations."

This video, posted by WeCopWatch on YouTube on Thursday, identified two other undercover Oakland police officers who posed as protesters and were unmasked by marchers. However, there is nothing in that exchange that can be described as threatening.

The Oakland incident comes after police in nearby Berkeley rioted this past Saturday night, lunging into the crowd and using smoke bombs, nightsticks and tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred protesters. That confrontation led the Berkeley police to reconsider their tactics during protests on the following nights.

But as the protest marchers crossed into other police jurisdictions, closing several interstate highways, other police agencies, such as the California Highway Patrol, said they would respond forcefully.

This latest development shows that police are not changing their use of excessive force as the protesters have been demanding. It is a sobering reminder of how entrenched police policies and practices are, which is one reason that the protests are continuing.

 

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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