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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/21/11

I've Had It with These Masked Thugs

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According to official city expense figures quoted by the ACLU, Oakland paid $1.04 million to the OPD, $1.09 million to city personnel, $500,000 to other police agencies in the form of "mutual aid," and $540,000 to VMA Security for a "30-day contract." The cost of "policing" would appear to far outweigh the city's costs for any "clean-ups" or "property damage."

A 'Conflict of Interest' in Conflict

Although it is seldom mentioned, it is a fundamental fact that the police have a "conflict of interest in conflict." As long as there is money to be made in police overtime, there will be a temptation to provoke situations that require overtime. 

And it's not just the local police that benefit from staring down and/or beating down protesters. In early November, when the OPD stormed through downtown streets amid a blizzard of tear-gas, Oakland's finest were backed up by at least 15 other police agencies including the California Highway Patrol, Alameda Country Sheriffs, and officers from police departments in Hayward, Berkeley and Gilroy (located about 75 miles south of Oakland).  

The same mutual-aid situation prevailed at UC Berkeley and UC Davis (where, in both cases, local campus cops were reinforced by Berkeley City police). It's a situation straight out of the old Buffalo Springfield song: "What a field-day for the heat. A thousand people in the street."  

Troubling Signs of an Emerging National Police State

The nearly simultaneous timing of the police sweeps that cracked down on Occupy encampments across the nation suggested a level of national coordination. The paranoia turned out to be well founded. 

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (who initially told the media that she had no knowledge of the coming police crackdown against people camped out in Frank Ogawa Plaza because she had been out of town) subsequently revealed during a BBC interview that she had been one of 18 big-city mayors who participated in a nationwide conference call to discuss how to handle the tent camps. London Guardian journalist Naomi Wolf reported that the conference call was initiated by representatives of the Department of Homeland Security who offered suggestions on "how to suppress" the Occupy protests. Susan Piper, Special Assistant to Mayor Quan, disputes this charge. 

"Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalized police force, and forbids federal or militarized involvement in municipal peacekeeping," notes Guardian reporter Naomi Wolf. Wolf herself was subjected to arrest after leaving a social event with her husband and walking down a Manhattan sidewalk during an Occupy protest. (A YouTube video shows Wolf, resplendent in an evening gown, being handcuffed and hustled into detention.)  

But Wolf was lucky. According to The New York Times, during a subsequent crackdown on peaceful protesters, NYPD's finest thugs "arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground " reporters and photographers" trying to document the police violence. Reporters were ordered to raise their hands, threatened with detention, roughed up and arrested after being warned that in New York, "the greatest city in the world," it was no longer legal "to take pictures on the sidewalk. 

The NYPD did such a thorough job that their beating victims included a state Supreme Court justice and a New York City councilmember. Not to be outdone, police enforcers in Berkeley managed to bludgeon Poet Laureate Robert Hass while grabbing a university professor by the hair and throwing her to the ground. 

How Police Used UC Berkeley to Practice for Attack on Occupy Oakland

UC Berkeley Chancellor Richard Birgeneau was rightly targeted for a vote of censure by his own faculty after police viciously attacked students and teachers with truncheons on the steps of Sproul Hall -- the historic Mecca of Free Speech. But Birgeneau's complicity in police violence went even deeper. 

It was bad enough that Birgeneau responded to a 2009 student occupation of Wheeler Hall by allowing outside police agencies to invade the campus armed with batons, tear-gas canisters and rifles equipped to fire "bean-bag" bullets. It was inexcusable that the "investigation" of police abuses from that event failed to prevent the latest violence. But Birgeneau's most egregious crime has not yet been widely addressed. 

According to a remarkable article by Max Blumenthal (reposted online by Berkeley's Tikkun magazine), in October, Birgeneau invited the notorious Alameda Country Sheriff's Department and other police agencies onto the UC campus to hold a "mutual response" military training exercise in preparation for the November assault on the tent camps of Occupy Oakland. 

In Blumenthal's words, the little-publicized exercise -- dubbed "Urban Shield 2011" -- "turned parts of the campus" into an urban battlefield." Following November's violent crackdown on Occupy Oakland's tent city in Frank Ogawa Plaza, Police Magazine reported that "law enforcement agencies" credited the Urban Shield's campus rehearsal for the "effective teamwork" that characterized their Oakland raids. 

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Gar Smith is a Project Censored Award-winning reporter and is co-founder and editor of Environmentalists Against War and the author of Nuclear Roulette.
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