Two Updates on the Oakland Cop Riot

These items are from the web site Labor Tuesday for May 20, 2003. They have been edited for Labor Standard. The initials ILWU refer of course to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, AFL-CIO.

1. Antiwar Protesters Triumphantly Return to Oakland Docks

by Charles Walker

Community pickets, variously estimated at 500-1,100, on May 12, returned to Oakland’s docks, where on April 7, dozens of antiwar protesters and some longshore workers were wounded in a cop assault, widely thought to have been instigated by shipping interests. [See the Labor Standard web site for earlier coverage of the April 7 cop riot.]

The protesters sought to publicly demonstrate their constitutional right to protest within Oakland’s city limits. This time the march and protest ended peacefully as a hundred or so of Oakland’s cops kept their distance. Days before, representatives of the marchers and community groups won an agreement that the cops would not interfere with their demonstration, after overcoming an earlier threat by the cops that they would restrict the marchers to a pen, a mile or more from the marchers’ destination—the wharf entrances of two shipping companies known to be profiting from the shipping of war materiel to Iraq.

The April 7 cop assault received widespread media coverage, as did the latest demonstration, evidenced by the presence of scores of TV cameras and reporters swarming around the pickets. Local papers featured the turnout on their front pages, and the 11 o’clock news shows gave the event high billing. Public hearings and court cases are pending.

“Blurring the line between terrorism and dissent”

Just six days after the protesters returned to the docks, the Oakland Tribune reported that the state of California’s so-called anti-terrorism center had monitored web sites and e-mails of peace groups and longshore union members, and told the Oakland cops to expect that the protesters would be violent. According to the newspaper, the state agency really didn’t have any evidence to go on, and said the agency was “blurring the line between terrorism and political dissent.”

“The center’s spokesman Mike Van Winkle [apparently no relation to Rip] said such evidence wasn’t needed to issue warnings on war protesters.

“You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest),” said Van Winkle, of California’s Justice Department. “You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act...I’ve heard terrorism described as anything that is violent or has an economic impact, and shutting down a port certainly would have some economic impact. Terrorism isn’t just bombs going off and killing people.”

The agency, which reportedly receives $6.7 million from California's deficit-ridden budget, is staffed with personnel from the FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other federal, state, and local agencies.

2. Open Letter to Jerry Brown

The letter below was addressed to Oakland’s mayor, Jerry Brown, a prominent figure in the Democratic Party nationally. The letter was signed by an international array of leading figures and organizations whose sympathies are with the two protests of April 7 and May 12.  The letter was initiated by the Rank and File ILWU Anti-War Action Committee and originally was posted on the Counterpunch web site for April 26/27, 2003.

May 16, 2003

Dear Mayor Brown:

The police actions that occurred in the port of Oakland on April 7, brutally suppressing a peaceful antiwar demonstration by shooting protesters and longshore workers without warning, is an affront to all those who cherish civil liberties.

We, who have expressed our opposition to war and defend others’ rights to protest, demand that:

(1) All charges against the protesters and ILWU longshore union official Jack Heyman be dropped immediately.

(2) There be an independent investigation into this unprovoked attack with appropriate justice being meted out to those responsible for the planning and implementation of the assault.

(3) Oakland police be directed to refrain from further violent actions which deny people’s democratic rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.

[Signed by:]

Mumia Abu-Jamal, author and death row inmate; Tony Benn, former Labour Member of Parliament (Britain); the 9-million-member Brazilian Unified Workers Confederation (TUC); Alexander Cockburn, author and coeditor of Counterpunch; Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Member of Parliament (Britain); Bob Crow, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (Britain); Paddy Crumlin, General Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia; Ossie Davis, actor; Ruby Dee, actress; Danny Glover, actor; Asher Harer, ILWU Strike Committees, 1946 and 1948; Walter Johnson, San Francisco Labor Council; John McDonnell, Labour Member of Parliament (Britain); Bob Middleton, Chaplain, Port of Oakland; Jimmy Nolan, Chairman, dockers’ organization of Liverpool, England; Jeffrey St. Clair, author and coeditor of Counterpunch magazine; Alice Walker, author.