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Why Is the Oakland Police Department Hiding the Truth About Its Violent Crackdown on the Occupy Protests?

Oakland police appear to have violated their own guidelines, and now they're refusing to release documents to civil rights attorneys as required by law.

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Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminal justice professor who's an expert in police procedures and the use of force, told the Oakland Tribune that the video left him "astonished, amazed and embarrassed."

"Unless there's something we don't know, that's one of the most outrageous uses of a firearm that I've ever seen," he said. "That just looks like absolute punishment, which is the worst type of excessive force."

All of these acts, on their face, violate OPD's own manual for proper crowd control ( PDF). The strict guidelines resulted from a 2003 civil suit against OPD for using wooden bullets and teargas to disperse a nonviolent crowd of citizens protesting the Iraq war. Jim Chanin, the civil rights attorney who won the suit, told CBS news that they restrict the use of chemical weapons until “all other means have failed.” “From what I could see [in videos of the incidents on March 25], they hadn’t even tried marching forward,” he said.

California's Crowd Management and Civil Disobedience guidelines ( PDF) state, “Only that force which is objectively reasonable may be used to arrest violators and restore order.”

Officials Aren't Giving Honest Accounts of Events

These actions are justified by officials with inaccurate claims of what happened out on the streets those nights.

The first pre-dawn raid was necessary, according to the mayor's office, due to health and safety violations, and a report that protesters had blocked emergency personnel from entering the camp after a fight broke out.

Those are legitimate concerns, but we know that suppressing dissent is a goal unto itself because on October 25, police also raided, and made arrests at Snow Park, a small satellite occupation some distance from City Hall. Snow Park was a small cluster of tents on a hill overlooking Lake Merritt. It had no kitchen, no sanitation issues – it had been established more recently than the main encampment – and while there is a small minority within Occupy Oakland that wants to mix it up with the police, everyone at Snow Park was committed to a non-confrontational stance. If the eviction of the camp in front of City Hall was executed only because of the reasons stated by the mayor's office and police officials, Snow Park would have been left unmolested.

In a press conference following the first raid, Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan claimed that teargas and other weapons were used on protesters only “in order to stop the crowd and people from pelting us with bottles and rocks." I was not at the very front, but I saw nothing thrown at officers before the first round of gas was deployed. Other accounts appear to confirm that, but in any event they were not, as the chief claimed, being “pelted” with multiple projectiles. (I did witness a few plastic water bottles and perhaps a rock thrown before subsequent uses of force by police.)

During a city council meeting on November 3, Jordan said that during the evening of the 25th, the protesters had been given free rein to demonstrate throughout the city with a few exceptions, one of which was that they couldn't attempt to enter the police building located on 6th Street and Broadway. “But,” he said, “they did try to enter the building.” This is false -- I can't be sure if police set up their lines on 7th or 8th Street, but in any event, at no time did protesters get anywhere near the police building.

The protesters had been peaceful throughout the afternoon, and if OPD had let them demonstrate outside the police building where over 100 of their fellow activists were being detained – allowing some tension to be diffused – they likely would have remained so. Instead, lines of riot police repeatedly blocked and boxed in protesters in a seemingly random fashion, and it was only when the crowd's frustration had mounted that some protesters surrounded a small number of police, which led to a violent response.