Mau-Mauing the Oakland Flak Catchers

June 22, 2012

By Dave Roberts

“God bless them for their spontaneity. It’s independent … it’s young, it’s spontaneous, and it’s focused. And it’s going to be effective.”

            — Nancy Pelosi

The Oakland Museum is currently featuring “The 1968 Exhibit,” wherein you can experience “the peak of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, riots at the Democratic National Convention, Black Power demonstrations at the Summer Olympics, feminist demonstrations at the Miss America pageant, and much more.” In other words, a chance for the Bay Area’s graying hippies and leftover radicals to relive the good old days.

But the real thing is very much alive and well at Oakland City Hall where Occupiers are still practicing the ’60s art of bureaucratic intimidation described in Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.” Wolfe described San Francisco City Hall in 1969, where the game consisted of bureaucratic “lifers” catching flak from minorities seeking government handouts.

Forty-three years later, the game plays on. Recently a mob of Occupiers yelled, cursed, screamed, threatened and eventually shut down the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting. They were angry about a proposal to ban weapons at protests.

Oakland has been under siege by Occupy Oakland since Oct. 10, when 147 tents, kitchen and restroom facilities, childcare areas and banners were set up in Frank Ogawa Plaza Park in front of Oakland City Hall. This leftist city’s officials initially embraced the Occupiers. But after two weeks of stench, mayhem and violence on their front door step, even these progressive city officials had enough. On Oct. 25 at 5 a.m. 594 cops stormed into 14th and Broadway and evicted the Occupiers, lock, stock and bongs.

That evening, the Occupiers marched back to reoccupy the park and forcefully were met by police, resulting in burning, breaking windows, spray-painting, tear gas, arrests and injuries. The most notorious injury was to Scott Olsen, an Iraq War vet who received a fractured skull after being allegedly hit by a cop’s projectile, possibly a tear gas canister. It was a major black eye for the city’s progressive Mayor Jean Quan, who was out of town when the battle went down.

City Expenses

Since then, numerous marches and protests, including attempts to shut down the Port of Oakland, have taken place, resulting in millions of dollars in expenses to the city as well as considerable damage to downtown businesses, both physically and economically.

In response, Councilwoman Pat Kernighan proposed banning weapons during demonstrations. The ordinance targets weapons used in previous protests, such as pressurized paint sprayers, heavy sticks, hammers, fire accelerants, shields as large as three feet by six feet, large wrenches, clubs, paint-filled projectiles, large poles, sling shots and fireworks.

“Rather than a sweeping, all encompassing ban on items that peaceful protestors might happen to have at a demonstration, this ordinance targets only those tools of violence and vandalism that have actually been used to the detriment of Oakland taxpayers and peaceful demonstrators,” states City Attorney Barbara Parker’s report. The weapons ban is constitutional because it’s modeled on a similar ban in Los Angeles that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and it accords with the city’s duty to protect its citizens, according to Parker.

The weapons ban proposal is not popular with the Occupiers, who see themselves under siege by Oakland police, whom they view as the real criminals. They verbally hammered, clubbed, spray-painted and wrenched Kernighan for two hours on May 22 as she chaired the Public Safety Committee meeting as it took up the weapons ban proposal. The meeting was out of control from the beginning and went downhill from there.

Mark Morodomi, a deputy attorney filling in for Parker, said:

“The city of Oakland supports and has had a long and proud history of supporting peaceful protests and demonstrations. In fact, just this month hundreds of men, women and children marched peacefully for immigrant and worker rights. Unfortunately, a small group of individuals have used the demonstrations in Oakland as cover to commit acts of violence, arson and vandalism.

“These individuals, sometimes clad in black and concealing their identity with masks, have brought tools of violence and vandalism to the demonstrations. They brought cans of fire accelerant, they brought slingshots and hammers. They brought shields, or as described by the perpetrators themselves, barricades. These barricades are as large as six feet wide and made out of corrugated steel, solid wood two-by-fours and metal handles. They brought clubs and poles about the size of baseball bats and longer. They brought fireworks, balloons filled with paint and pressurized paint sprayers. When these tools are brought to demonstrations, the demonstrations become dangerous.

“We hope that the passage of this ordinance will deter people from even bringing these tools of violence and vandalism to demonstrations. We hope that upon passage of the ordinance there will continue to be peaceful protests. And with the passage of the ordinance that all citizens of Oakland will be safer.”

Occupier resistance

The Occupiers were having none of it.

A woman who called herself only Jessa said that the ordinance

“language defining ‘club’ and ‘shield’ are so vague that protesters could face jail time or financial strangulation for being in possession of water bottles, tripods, skateboards, bikes, backpacks and strollers. The decision-making process on what constitutes a club or a shield should not be left to your racist, homophobic, violence-loving, meathead pigs. [Cheers] If you want to talk about safety, let’s talk about dissolving the Oakland Police Department and holding officers accountable for their crimes against humanity. F— the patriarchy and f— the pigs.” [Applause and cheers]

Jessica Hollie, who plans to run for City Council, said:

“If you take away our shields, the only thing we have left is our Second Amendment right. So when we shoot back … [Cheers]. The American flag, the Supreme Court said it is a perfectly protected form of self-expression to burn that piece of sh– that don’t represent nothing except imperialism and f—ing oppression. But guess what, it’s not made out of flammable material so you need an accelerant.”

Stephanie Demos said, “I want to tell you, Pat Kernighan, that I can walk up to you and kill you with a f—ing pencil. Are you going to outlaw pencils?”

When John Reiman came to the podium, he chose instead to face the crowd, saying:

“I want to address the people out here rather than this disgusting bunch of lying hypocrites who masquerade as the Public Safety Commission, when in actuality they are the Public Cover-Up Commission. They are covering up the continual police violence, covering up the daily violence of poverty and homelessness. There’s only one law that operates in this country: Might makes right. How can we get the might?”

Reiman suggested running Occupy candidates for the council, but with the caveat “to make sure that they stand completely outside this gang of criminal conspirators and are running to bring down this gang and the entire system and the corporate world that is destroying the lives of all of us. The only thing they respect is power.”

Conspiracy theories

“This is a fraud,” said Joshua Smith. “This is the militarization of local law enforcement and the criminalization of dissent.

Smith launched into a litany of conspiracy theories involving the CIA, NSA, DHS, FBI, ICE, Coast Guard, the White House, the State Department, nationwide fusion centers, the ATF’s Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, Mexican drug cartels and the Federal Reserve.

“The Occupy movement struggles against the 1 percent to bring to the people their police, their weapons, their private prisons, their corrupt freak show politics, their illegal and immoral global war for domination, their propaganda media, their warrantless wiretap surveillance, their corporate-sponsored military poverty draft, their poisonous food additives, their debt slavery and they sell out American manufacturing,” said Smith in perfect ’60s-speak. “The Occupy movement brings solidarity, defiance, insubordination, posters, fliers, civil disobedience, hacking, file-sharing and the occasional strike or mass gatherings for free speech.”

Ian Briggs said he’s been assaulted three times by the police:

“Twice people with shields stepped in front of me to protect me during those assaults. It’s a sad commentary … when those who have been forced to stand between the forceful and violent and those that are unable to defend themselves are actually called Occupiers instead of police. The people are not going to stop. We have valid objections. We believe this is our constitutional right. If you take the shield from us, the only thing left is a sword. This will escalate the violence in Oakland.” [Cheers]

A female attorney said:

“Everyone is repeating we are so proud of our history of protest. It is not safe to protest in Oakland because over the past seven months protestors, including peaceful protestors, have been tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets and police projectiles and batons and beaten and seriously injured. And the Oakland Police Department has arrested almost 800 protesters in this city in the past six months. So clearly everyone agrees it’s not safe to politically protest in Oakland and to exercise your first amendments rights to do so.

“The anger you’re hearing in this room is the result of the fact that we feel the Oakland Police Department has attacked us with a military force that involves tanks and tear gas and riot gear. And the response of the Public Safety Committee of our city is to ban our shields.

“The deepest problem is that you will set a precedent on the pre-emptive policing of protesters. This ordinance makes it a crime to hold items that in and of themselves are not illegal. And no illegal act has to be committed. But a protestor having those items is automatically a criminal because of the potential that they could actually commit a crime. If the problem here is broken windows, arrest people who break windows. If the problem is property damage, arrest people who damage property.”

She said that charges have yet to be filed on 90 percent of the approximately 800 protesters who have been arrested.


Melvin Kelly said:

“When you take away the shields, when you take away our chance to, like, be on the defensive, all you leave us is, like, to attack.” [Cheers]

Dave Fierstein, an Oakland teacher, said:

“The violence you are trying to stop is the violence of the people. Which is the violence to overturn the state, to take care of your jobs, to seize the power that belongs to us that you have been misusing. That’s real violence. And that’s the violence you’re trying to stop by taking away shields. Because that’s the only violence a shield can do. It’s the violence that allows for change, what we call revolution. [Cheers] You see, that’s the violence that we are bringing. It doesn’t have to be violence with hammers or torches or pitchforks or spray cans or shields or whatever. No, our violence is that we are going to change the system to take away every one of your jobs.”

There was only one man – Vincent Suave, an ex-Marxist who has lived in downtown Oakland for 26 years – who dared speak a contrary word. “I’m not a supporter of the Occupy movement,” he said. “I think it’s awful that they are being so disrespectful of you people here.” The crowd started shouting him down. Kernighan, who had finally had enough, barked, “People, shut the hell up. We listened to you.”

Suave said:

“Maybe in the future you should make restrictions on disrespectful behavior. Because it’s not fair to the public to have this kind of unruly behavior, which really borders on terrorism actually.”

The crowd started going crazy.

Kernighan said:

“We are ending the meeting. Sir, I’m sorry that it’s out of hand. I apologize that you did not have the opportunity to speak in a democratic meeting when everybody else had an opportunity to be heard.”

A guy got in Suave’s face and said, “Get your ass out of here. You can’t talk.”

Suave responded, “You don’t know what democracy is if you can’t listen to somebody.”

The guy said to him, “You’re not going to make it home.”

The crowd chanted “F— the police” and other slogans as the committee members and staff packed up and left. Kernighan and Suave received a police escort out of the building, according to one report.

Mau mau

Three weeks later, Kernighan got the mau-mau treatment once again. About three dozen demonstrators marched to her home, followed by a half dozen police cars, according to the Contra Costa Times. Police and Kernighan’s neighbors witnessed the occupiers chanting, ringing her doorbell, and burning an American flag while singing “America, the Beautiful,” but with the words changed to “America, f— you, f— you, f— you.”

Days later, the Occupiers received vindication of sorts from an independent review that criticized Oakland police and administrators’ handling of the Oct. 25 protest. “The crowd control tactics used by OPD are outdated, dangerous, and ineffective,” concluded the report, which was overseen by a former Baltimore police commissioner.

Quan, whose image has taken a terrible beating for her ineffectiveness and incompetence during the siege, sought to do damage control with a statement, “This is not an easy report to release, but we are committed to confronting the truth and implementing meaningful reforms.”

But any PR gains Occupy might have realized by this were offset when Occupiers recently protested a conference combating child sex trafficking. Defending child sex trafficking is a tough sell, even in Oakland.

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