Oakland residents hold vigil for man who died in police custody

About 40 people held a candlelight video for the person who died after being tased by Oakland police. Video by Lucas Guilkey.

On Sunday evening, about 40 people gathered for a peaceful vigil in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood to mourn the loss of a person who died after being tased by Oakland police officers last week.

The deceased person’s name has not yet been released, but to the people who came to honor him, none of whom were friends or family, that did not seem to matter. “I don’t know this person’s name, gender, status, or the situation,” said Ashley Ragus, 30, of Oakland as she crouched on the ground coloring a sign in blue and black marker that read, “#OPD Kills.” “The bottom line is that those who are charged with protecting, are not protecting and in fact are killing and exploiting people. It’s up to us to stop it in any way we can.”

The vigil was organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), a group whose goal is to end violence caused by police officers. It was held on the corner of 42nd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, the location where the man was detained and tased following a multi-vehicle crash around 2:30 pm on September 28.

As a woman sang, “We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives,” people held hands with loved ones, and carried candles and signs calling for an end to the use of tasers.

“This is another tragedy that highlights the lie about tasers being non-lethal weapons,” said Cat Brooks, a co-founder of APTP. “They are highly lethal weapons. We have to shift the narrative from the weapon that is in the system’s hand, and we really need to be talking about the system.”

“This whole community has been triggered and traumatized,” Brooks continued. “So even for people who didn’t stop here tonight, to drive by and see people out here in your hood, holding up signs, holding up candles, it sends a message to a community that you are held, you are loved, we’ve got you.”

According to a statement released on Friday by Oakland Police Department Public Information Officer Johnna Watson, the deceased man “was identified as being involved in the vehicle collision and attempting to flee the scene,” and was being “physically resistant” towards officers.

The statement says that after being tased, the man was taken to a hospital where he died Thursday evening.  The cause of death is still being determined by the staff of the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau and both the police department’s Homicide Section and Internal Affairs Division and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office are carrying out an investigation.

As of press time, Watson had not responded to a request for additional information.

When asked what he wants to see change in Oakland policing, Tur-Ha Ak, another co-founder of APTP, said he would like to see “a stronger community police review commission” that has the “power and ability to levy consequence.”

“A police review board or a commission with teeth may help some but it is still a Band-Aid on a larger problem,” said Ak, referring to a need for better jobs and living conditions for residents, which he feels would reduce crime. If we solve the conditions, we wouldn’t have even the need for police departments the same way we do now.”

The Citizen’s Police Review Board was approved by the city in May of 2015 and consists of seven members, four selected by city councilmembers. The remaining three are appointed by the mayor and must be approved by the council.  The review board meets monthly at Oakland City Hall.  This Tuesday, the council will vote on the appointment of William Mayes, one of Mayor Libby Schaaf’s candidates to the board.

Brooks says the next step for her group will be to “connect with the [deceased man’s] family so that we can offer ongoing support.”

She said they will also try to speak with witnesses and neighbors to put together “the community’s narrative” about the man’s death, “as opposed to solely relying on the OPD’s narrative which never ever, ever holds themselves accountable to the degree they need to be held accountable to.”

 

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