Cop Attack at Oakland Docks Premeditated, Say Protesters

by Bob Mattingly

Oakland, CA, April 9—Was the April 8 cop riot at Oakland’s docks, which injured at least nine longshore workers and even more antiwar protesters, planned beforehand? An eyewitness to the cop attack made the charge that it was. At a session of Oakland’s city council, the day after the assault, Michael Eisenscher, a founding organizer of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), testified at the council meeting, “I did not witness anyone throwing anything at the police.” An aide to one of the council members corroborated his statement, as did several other speakers before the council.

Moreover, Eisenscher testified, “It was perfectly clear that the police had intended to conduct this kind of violent assault even before they arrived or determined the intentions of the demonstrators, since they arrived in full riot squad dress with gas masks already on.” Some 300 others applauded Eisenscher’s remarks when he charged, “This assault was premeditated!”

Eisenscher’s charges seemed to be confirmed by an Oakland Tribune report that appeared the day after the cop riot. “At a meeting last week, officials from the Police Department, port and two shipping companies targeted by protesters came up with a strategy to handle the expected gatherings.” That “strategy” was to prevent the blocking of terminal gates, according to a port representative. “How they decided to do that, however, was not under our control,” he told the Tribune.

The city’s police chief added still more fuel to Eisenscher’s charges when he said that he feared that the protesters might have been able to shut down all of the city’s seaport terminals. “The concern I had today is that we would have been overwhelmed,” the chief told Tribune reporters. “They could have taken over the whole port, and we did not want that to happen.” The police chief told the New York Times (April 8) that American President Lines and SSA Marine, who have contracts to ship military cargo to Iraq, “had asked the police to disperse the crowd because the demonstration, which began in early morning, was disrupting business.”

However, no one at the council meeting, which was heavily patrolled by the city’s police, challenged Eisenscher’s or anyone else’s assertions that the demonstrators had formed a peaceful picket line and that they had not witnessed any attack on the police. Moreover, the web site used to organize the picket line stressed the nonviolent intent of the demonstration.

It’s impossible, after connecting the dots, not to conclude that the cops were under pressure from the shipping lines to make sure that their private property rights prevailed over the protesters’ constitutional rights to peacefully assemble. As Eisenscher put it about the cops’ tactics, “the police chose to employ a ‘preemptive strike’ and now justify that decision with the same logic used by President Bush to justify the U.S. ‘preemptive strike’ on Iraq. It was not a response to what the protesters were doing, but rather an effort to discourage any others from joining them…”

Some of the protesters are clearly amazed that their rights were violently ignored, but as union picketers can testify, such cop violence is all too frequent. Perhaps that was on the mind of the head of San Francisco’s Labor Council, who declared in a letter to Oakland’s mayor, Democrat Jerry Brown, that he demanded that Brown conduct “a full investigation into this police violence on the Oakland docks.” Oakland’s Labor Council officers, as well as other Bay Area labor councils, have protested the Oakland cops’ actions, which have been defended repeatedly by Jerry Brown, the mayor.

Walter Johnston, principal officer of the San Francisco Labor Council, told Brown, “These acts of police misconduct are outrageous and must be condemned as yet another attack on our civil liberties and democratic rights. Working people have the right to peaceful assembly and protest, including picketing.”

The city council may hold another hearing on the police misconduct in two weeks, but it’s not clear that there will be an official investigation or, if there is, that it won’t be a dog and pony show designed to discourage the cops’ critics rather than protect civil liberties. Some attendees at the council meeting expressed fears of a whitewash, while others called for an independent investigation, not one conducted by the police department.

The Oakland cop attack has received media attention from around the nation and overseas, and no wonder. As the Oakland press said, “The clash was the most violent between protesters and the authorities anywhere in the country since the start of war in Iraq.” Like the war on Iraq, the “clash” was hugely one-sided; an overwhelming powerful force, equipped with the latest combat gear, face shields, gas masks, motorcycles, and helicopters, and armed to the teeth with tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and inch-thick wooden projectiles fired from shotguns, easily dispersed up to 750 antiwar protesters, peacefully assembled.