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Photo Courtesy Angelica.

An Oakland police officer in a Hawaiian shirt leads residents to speculate extremist ties

on October 1, 2020

A photograph circulating on social media of an Oakland police officer wearing a Hawaiian shirt under his tactical vest has upset several residents, who are speaking out online. Shirts with tropical prints have increasingly become associated with a militant extremist group called the Boogaloo Boys. 

The Oakland Police Department denied the officer’s involvement in any extremist organization or even knowledge of the reference, but a week later, Interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer issued a statement saying the department is warning all plain-clothes officers of the connection, “to ensure that this misperception does not occur again.”

Hawaiian shirts, especially when worn under bulletproof vests, have become a signature outfit of the Boogaloo Boys (or Bois), some of whom say they want to start a second civil war. The shirt itself is a reference to the “big luau,” or final battle in the group’s philosophy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups.

An Oakland resident named Angelica, who declined to give her last name, took the photograph of the officer near West Grand Avenue and San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. She heard a helicopter about 10 p.m. and stepped outside to see what was happening. It was a warm night and several neighbors also ventured outside to witness the commotion. As they watched, about 15 police officers converged on a nearby house.

Angelica noticed one officer was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. 

“When I saw that he was wearing the Hawaiian shirt, I called out that he was a Boogaloo Boy and he seemed to take notice,” Angelica said. “He came over and told me to not interfere with the police.”

Angelica said seeing so many police officers — apparently serving a warrant — alarmed her and many others in the neighborhood, worsening the already tense relationship that exists between the community and police. Just a few months ago,  David Patrick Underwood, a federal security officer in Oakland, was allegedly shot and killed by Steven Carrillo, a sergeant in the Air Force who federal authorities have connected with Boogaloo Boys. 

“At best this is another example of the complete disregard for the feelings and well-being of the people they are policing,” Angelica said. “At worst it’s an example of white supremacists or violent extremist elements within OPD.” 

When Manheimer first learned of the Hawaiian shirt incident, she downplayed it, saying many people wear Hawaiian shirts, not just Boogaloo Boys. 

Manheimer responded to a worried community member with a photograph she had recently taken of Tommy Bahama brand shirts on sale at a local department store. The shirts bear a floral pattern similar to those sported by Boogaloo Boys. 

“While Hawaiian shirts or palm trees may be worn by members of different groups, they’re also worn and sold universally – in fact there was a big sale today at Macy’s as I was shopping and saw many diverse individuals purchasing and wearing the Hawaiian attire,” Manheimer said.

But in a statement one week later, the tone changed. 

“The Department recognizes and understands the pain and suffering caused by such extremist groups such as the Boogaloos, who are intolerant and instill fear and hatred in our community,” the statement read. “The Oakland Police Department stands with our community and will not tolerate any hate crime against anyone in our community.”

Doug Kouns, a former FBI agent who was with the Bureau for 22 years focusing mainly on counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence, cautioned against a rush to judgment based on one Hawaiian shirt.  

But he also said residents’ concerns should not be dismissed outright because there are many examples of extremists infiltrating police departments and the military. 

“From my research [the Boogaloo Boys] seem to be a lot of former military, and law enforcement also attracts a lot of former military so you could have some crossover,” Kouns said. “If there are these kinds of people in law enforcement it is disturbing, because law enforcement has no place for that kind of thing.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a meeting on Sept. 29 about growing concern of extremists infiltrating police departments. 

OPD declined to provide the name or rank of the police officer wearing the Hawaiian shirt because he works undercover.

Feature photo courtesy Angelica.

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