Occupy Oakland Police Sweep Resulted From A Failure of City Leadership

No one who watched the eviction of demonstrators from Frank Ogawa Plaza can feel good about the way this situation was handled.  Nor can anyone fail to be stunned and saddened by the serious injuries sustained by Iraqui War veteran Scott Olson.  The failures at the root of Tuesday’s terrible events, however, were not policing failures; they were failures of City leadership and management. For that we have to look to the Mayor’s office.

History tells us that even the best planned and most carefully executed police action of this type, involving demonstrators who typically show a range of behavior from absolute non-violence to provocation to assaults on officers, will invariably result in some injuries.   Notwithstanding Mayor Quan’s attempts yesterday to minimize her own knowledge and involvement, the police in this case were simply doing as they were told.

Questions to be answered are these: how did things reach the point where this police action was necessary? Why did the Mayor and City Council send mixed messages to the demonstrators–one day “showing solidarity,”  camping with them, leading them to believe they were welcome at the Plaza, and then later moving to an action like this when the demonstrators settled in for a prolonged stay?

The demonstrators had a right to peacefully assemble and express themselves. However, this was public land designated for multiple purposes. The City is responsible for that land.   Well-settled law tells us that the City had both a right and a responsibility to balance the right to demonstrate on public land with narrowly constructed, content neutral restrictions that still allowed the demonstrators to get their message out.  The responsible course of management from the start was to make very clear the city’s reasonable time, place and manner rules for the use of the plaza.  No mixed messages, no trying to have it both ways.

Here is how it should have worked. The Mayor should have communicated with the group once it arrived two weeks ago, advised them of the need for a permit to occupy the plaza, and then spelled out what the requirements for the permit would be.  In other cities (and here too), camping in a public plaza or city park is not permitted–but assembling for free speech is.  As an example, a permit could have stipulated that the group may assemble, but could not camp. Group members would not be allowed there if they destroyed or damaged property, or impeded the ability of others to also use the plaza. As long as the permit restrictions were not drawn to censor what the demonstrators were saying, AND so long as the restrictions were narrow (not a big infringement) and tailored to advance a public interest (e.g., public safety) AND allowed the demonstrators to get their message out–the permit would be lawful under the First Amendment. The demonstrators would still be allowed to protest–and Tuesday’s chaos would not have occurred.

Mayor Quan managed the last two weeks’ events very badly.  She exacerbated the management failure yesterday by denying involvement in the planning of the police action and trying to pass the blame to the City Administrator.  While offering at best faint praise for the police  (“The mayor said ‘I don’t know everything’ when asked by reporters if she was satisfied with how police conducted the sweep”) she inferentially faulted 1% of them.

This week’s episode conjures memories of 2010, when City Council members, including then Council Member Quan, inserted themselves between police and demonstrators  in the aftermath of the Oscar Grant verdict, allegedly to protect the demonstrators from the police–but more likely to posture for news pictures in the middle of an election.

We don’t know if every officer at the scene did everything correctly.  But we do know that the entire problem could have been avoided if the City had laid out reasonable, clear and consistent conditions for allowing the Occupy Oakland demonstration from the start. Tragically, the City’s leadership sacrificed clarity of position in favor of photo opportunities and mixed messages.


Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. ed gerber

    Excellant critique of Mayor’s management behaviour.How would other readers rate City Administrator and PD mangement and leadership? Are they being supported or undercut by the Mayor(99% right may be good recognizing this was a police force made up of many departments)?

  2. Janet Somers

    This insightful and eloquent piece says what I’ve been saying from the beginning of this unfortunate event: Quan failed to set and communicate clear boundaries from the start. From whichever side of the political spectrum you’re on, it now should be evident that a fiasco like this stems from the top. However the details break down, you can’t blame OPD for the tragic events. You can’t blame OO. You can ONLY blame the mayor.

    I have felt for some time that Oakland has been a powder keg just waiting to explode. I didn’t know what form it would take. Now we see.

    This mayor’s abject and complete failure to lead, combined with her nasty habit of blaming others for her failures, makes her a liability to this city. Rather than being able to fulfil her duty to protect the citizens, she actually is a danger to them.

    It is sad that it took an event of this magnitude to make more people aware of her ineptitude. Let’s get her out of this job, where she clearly doesn’t belong, before she does even more damage.

  3. S Frainier

    Remember this Mayor only received 25% of the popular vote. Oakland’s confusing ranked voting process contributed to this mess too.
    I for one am looking foward to signing the recall Mayor Quan petition.

  4. Frank Castro

    Excellent analysis. Many of us who are active in Oakland city politics were floored by Mayor Quan’s denial of any involvement in the timing of the raid on Occupy Oakland. The buck really stops with the Mayor. To have her deny any knowledge of when the raid was going to occur is disingenuous. Quan has shown a penchant for distancing herself from any and all responsibility when things go terribly wrong. Leadership begins at the top and this includes taking responsibility for mistakes.

  5. Jonathan C. Breault

    I am not floored by Jean Quan’s denial. That is typical Quan behavior. Quick to assign blame to others for her own manifest incompetence and bungling and equally skilled at claiming credit for anything good whether she had anything to do with it or not. This is quintessential Quan behavior. It will not be too long before she throws Chief Jordan under the proverbial bus. She will drop him like a lead balloon if it serves her selfish interests. The real truth is that Quan knows nothing about leadership. She is all about propaganda, deceit and manipulation. This chaos and carnage never should have happened. Quan’s visceral reaction to this Occupy Oakland was juvenile and stupid. She ought to have immediately and without the slightest hesitation laid down the ground rules for this group and then enforced them vigorously. This is grown up behavior. Quan seems to revel in the absurd idea of being the rebel or the protester as it conjures in her mind the years spent as a young person protesting in college. She seems to forget that she is a Mayor and grown up. She is useless and cannot lead Oakland. Maybe the recall will succeed.

  6. JW Yager

    The predictable confrontation between the protesters and OPD plus other police forces was re-broadcast nationally repeatedly over multiple days –yet another Black Eye for the city of Oakland. When are we ever going to “clean house” in the Mayor’s office and the city council? Poor leadership has plagued this city for years and — when a strong leader does show up (Robert Bobb, Anthony Batts) he is summarily kicked out. Although the poor leaders can’t manage their way out of a paper bag, they are really good at getting rid of anyone who is competent. It is quite ironic. Anyway, I look forward to recalling the Mayor, putting term limits on the City Council and putting forth solid and accountable budget reform. Next, pay for performance in the city administration.

  7. Janet Somers

    It occurred to me during the recent earthquakes that a city with an incompetent mayor is like a house with a faulty foundation: Any serious stress, and the structure blows. This kind of incident was foreseeable and no doubt will happen again, in whatever form the next stressor happens to take. This mayor is a dangerous liability to the city and should replaced, just like a faulty foundation.

    1. Jenni

      @VipericVampire I never saw any Israeli, or American pdeisrent advocate genocide, which is clearly against International Law.So I am not hypocritical in wanting the small hitler behind the bars.

      1. Jorge

        I just called Oakland Police’s non-emergency line (1-510-777-3333) (I prsseed #7 on the list. If you hear the TTY sound, press 1 to get the list of departments) to find out which corporation they’re working for. The woman was confused, so I told her how JP Morgan in NYC paid NYC police $4.6 million dollars to arrest 700 peaceful protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge and then wondered which corporation Oakland was working for to protect. She said, We work for the people , and I said, Are you sure? Corporations are more human than you and I are and it appears that Oakland Police are working for at least one corporation to protect the corp, by tear gassing and firing rubber bullets at the peaceful protesters! How much money have they received on behalf of the corporation to arrest real people? . Still confused, She said. No. We work for the people . I then asked her if Oakland Police will at some point escalate into an assassination squad against the people to protect the corporations and her voice lowered and said if I would leave my name and number someone would get back to me on that. She reiterated I don’t think so a few times. I said, But it could happen since corporations are more deserving than real flesh and blood people are,right? . When she asked for my name, I said, It doesn’t matter what my name is because I am a real person and Oakland Police doesn’t seem to care what the concerns of real people are and I would not get a call back! . I hung up.

  8. Raider Zig

    The Mayor and Council are so totalitarian in their ultra liberal ineptitude

Leave a Reply