Nov. 9, 2011 | The images of injured war veterans and peaceful protesters being fired upon with tear gas and rubber bullets is becoming personally and politically distasteful to a growing number of local cities who previously offered mutual aid to Oakland on two occasions to disperse Occupy Oakland protests.
Tuesday night, Berkeley’s City Council made the boldest call thus far against offering police support for the occupation by refusing mutual aid they believe runs contrary to the city’s noted history of protests and civil disobedience. “Some of my constituents believe the right to demonstrate is something we should respect,” said Berkeley Councilman Jesse Arreguin.
“Most people are out there proudly carrying signs and doing nothing more than exercising their rights,” added Berkeley Councilman Max Anderson. “If we turn on people like this, this country is in huge trouble.”
The issue of providing mutual aid for events not born of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or fire, is proving to be a thorny point for politicians concerned over their city’s reputation and destiny controlled by leaders in Oakland along with police chiefs who also must answer to colleagues in surrounding locales.
The mutual aid agreement often cited in the two incidents of mutual aid in the past three weeks is voluntary. Officers are paid by their respective agencies with cities liable for their actions. Theoretically, each agency employs its own department’s standards and practices. Sometimes, though, it is not clear who is in charge on the ground.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates quizzed the city’s police chief Michael Meehan on whether Berkeley cops could be extricated from the operation if the department’s own rules ran the risk of being compromised. “If it’s a violation of our policy, we can say no,” Meehan said.
Officials in San Leandro on Monday night, voiced similar questions over their city’s use of 38 officers during both calls for mutual aid on Oct. 25 and Nov. 2, but unlike Berkeley, took no action.
San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy appeared to gingerly walk around the question of whether its police chief should decline mutual aid to Oakland. San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli said it was her call, but would likely support participating in mutual aid since the agreement also calls for neighboring agency to help San Leandro if it were ever in need of help.
The image of Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen laying prone on the street after being hit point blank in the face by a tear gas canister fired by law enforcement Oct. 25 has made an indelible mark on many local officials.
“Someone who aims a tear-gas canister at someone’s head, shoots and fades back into the crowd, I have a problem with that,” said Anderson.
There is also growing reticence among local officials to help Oakland with the occupy movement in the future because of a perception its leaders threw allied agencies under the bus in the days after Olsen’s life-threatening injuries became fodder for national news.
San Leandro Councilman Jim Prola, a product of Oakland and also a veteran, said he was angered and embarrassed by the assault on Olsen last month and was highly critical of the rationale for the police action that night. Prola asked Spagnoli for an explanation for the early morning raid “Help me understand how that could be an emergency when you have people sleeping and they’re going in.”