Citizen’s Police Review Board discusses postponement of forum on Occupy Oakland
on February 17, 2012
The City of Oakland’s Citizen’s Police Review Board met Thursday night for the first time since postponing a forum that was scheduled for Feb. 9 on police response to Occupy Oakland. But the board did not hold the much-anticipated forum, and instead discussed why the meeting was postponed, where a suitable location for the forum would be, what would be discussed, and when.
Only about a dozen people were present in the Oakland City Hall Council Chambers for the meeting of the review board, which is made up of volunteers who live in Oakland. At each meeting, citizens have the opportunity to discuss their concerns or problems with the police department.
Most of those present were supporters of Occupy Oakland, and some shared stories of what they consider misconduct by the Oakland Police Department, like officers unnecessarily using tear gas on protesters or pointing shotguns at them. These attendees noted that there are eight open investigations regarding officer misconduct during Occupy protests.
“It seems like the Oakland Police Department is looking for any reason to attack protesters,” Oakland resident Jessica Hollie told the board in a rapid-fire delivery. “If they’re wearing full body armor and riot protection shields and all that, and then they throw smoke grenades into a crowd where there’s a child and someone picks it up and throws it back, then everyone gets beat by the police, so I think that’s something that needs to be looked into as well.”
Tony Lawson, who has served as legal counsel for the board for more than a decade, told the audience that the forum scheduled for February 9 was postponed because there were issues with the capacity of the room where the meeting was scheduled, with security, with getting necessary information from the OPD and with arranging for a police department representative to be present at the forum. Lawson said there was also an issue regarding the scope of the forum—the original meeting was to focus on the evictions of protesters from Frank Ogawa Plaza in October, but there have been numerous clashes between protesters and police since then, including on January 28, when hundreds were arrested in downtown Oakland after protesters tried to take over the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.
Many in the audience criticized the board for postponing the forum for those reasons, and for holding a “meeting about a meeting,” as Hollie said. But Lawson said that after that forum was postponed, the state’s Sunshine Act, which guarantees the publics right to participate in meetings held by local governing boards, required the board to gather publicly to decide when to hold the forum.
“We can’t get on the phone and have a conference call and say, ‘Let’s schedule a meeting for this date,’ because you would be concerned that you weren’t able to have an opportunity to speak about that issue,” said Lawson. “So we have to notice a meeting to talk about where we want to have the meeting. It may be silly, but that’s what the Sunshine Act requires.”
Speakers from the audience noted that after the review board’s forum was cancelled, Occupy supporters held their own forum last week at the Grand Lake Theater, which was attended by some members of the police review board. During that forum, a video highlighting police misconduct was shown, said Oakland resident Spencer Mills, and the footage captured by numerous people was so extensive “we couldn’t fit it in the actual presentation,” Mills said.
Speakers at Thursday’s meeting also implored the board to not hold the next forum at City Hall, where some protesters have been given stay away orders by OPD and would be unable to attend. A suggestion that the review board’s forum also be held at the Grand Lake Theater was considered by the board, who voted to include that site, along with area schools, as possible locations for the forum.
But just when that forum will be was not decided. Patrick Caceres, the manager of the board and an employee of the City Administrator’s Office, said that OPD officials have been hesitant to participate in the forum because of an ongoing independent investigation of the department’s tactics commissioned by the city in December. Caceres said he has been told that OPD representatives would prefer that the report be released before they make any other public comments. Caceres said that date should be around March 31.
The review board’s next meeting is scheduled for next Thursday, and no items concerning Occupy Oakland are on the agenda.
After the meeting, Hollie lamented that the issues of police brutality are “time sensitive” and was frustrated the board couldn’t decide when and where to hold the forum, much less to actually discuss the issues raised. “I mean, what can you do? It’s bureaucratic bullshit,” she said. “It’s inherent in everything.”
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
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