One year after cops fire rubber bullets at demonstrators
By Scott Johnson | April 16, 2004 | Page 2
A RECENT report by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights denounces violations of free speech and the use of police violence against dissidents, including "the question of torture." The report isn't about the former governments of Iraq or Afghanistan--or a U.S.-backed military regime.
It's about police departments in U.S. cities--and their brutality against antiwar demonstrations, both before and after last year's invasion of Iraq. And at the top of the list are Oakland cops--who last year fired bean bags, stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas at antiwar protesters and dockworkers during a demonstration against war profiteers at the Port of Oakland.
Last week, on the anniversary of the April 7 police rampage, about 200 activists returned to the scene of the Oakland cops' crime. "An injury to one is an injury to all," Clarence Thomas of International Longshore and Warehouse (ILWU) Union Local 10 said at the rally. "We will not be stopped or intimidated by the police. We have to show the world that everybody doesn't agree with Bush's policies of imperialism and globalization."
The UN report covers a range of police violations of protesters' rights. It cites the New York police for keeping people from attending a February 15 antiwar demonstration that numbered as high as 1 million. "The NYPD," states the report, "charged horses into crowds, pepper-spraying demonstrators and using batons to disperse them, as well as arresting over 350 demonstrators."
But the worst offenses were committed by Oakland police at the April 7 demonstration. Hundreds of protesters marched that day to the Port of Oakland terminals, where American President Lines and Stevedoring Services of America--two shipping giants that have profited off the war on Iraq--have major operations.
Determined to show that protesters wouldn't even be able to approach this nerve center of West Coast capitalism, Oakland cops unleashed their violent assault. Forty people were injured, including a protester who was shot in the face and a longshore worker whose hand was broken.
As though the violence wasn't enough, the cops also arrested 31 people--including ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Jack Heyman, who was only trying to keep his union members away from the conflict. The New York Times called the Oakland attack "the most violent [clash] between protesters and authorities anywhere in the country since the start of the war."
After suffering harsh criticism last year, the police didn't interfere with this year's return to the docks. "Our response did not put the Police Department in a favorable light," grumbled Deputy Police Chief Pete Dunbar to the San Francisco Chronicle. ILWU members and antiwar activists are continuing to defend the Oakland 25--those who still face charges from last year's protest--and the right to protest generally.