Oakland Police Department

Gearing up for war



A tear gas canister explodes as citizens flee from the gun-toting warriors, safely guarded behind their armored vehicles. Dressed in patterned camo and body armor, they form a skirmish line as they fire projectiles into the crowd. Flash bang explosions echo down the city’s streets.

Such clashes between police and protesters have been common in Ferguson, Mo., in the past few weeks since the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer. But it’s also a scene familiar to anyone from Occupy Oakland, where Iraq veteran Scott Olsen suffered permanent brain damage after police shot a less-than-lethal weapon into his head, or similar standoffs in other cities.

police embed 1As the country watched Ferguson police mobilize against its citizens while donning military fatigues and body armor and driving in armored vehicles, many began drawing comparisons to soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan — indeed, viral photos featuring side-by-side comparisons made it difficult to distinguish peace officers from wartime soldiers.

So how did law enforcement officers in police departments across the country come to resemble the military? And what impact is that escalation of armaments having on otherwise peaceful demonstrations? Some experts say the militarization of police actually encourages violence.

Since the ’90s, the federal Department of Defense has served as a gun-running Santa Claus for the country’s local police departments. Military surplus left over from wars in the Middle East are now hand-me-downs for local police across the country, including here in the Bay Area.

A grenade launcher, armored command vehicles, camera-mounted SWAT robots, mounted helicopter weapons, and military grade body armor — these are just some of the weapons and equipment obtained by San Francisco law enforcement agencies since the ’90s. They come from two main sources: the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 loan program, and a multitude of federal grants used to purchase military equipment and vehicles.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, “The War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” slammed the practice of arming local police with military gear. ACLU spokesperson Will Matthews told us the problem is stark in the Bay Area.

“There was no more profound example of this than [the response to] Occupy,” he told the Guardian. He said that military gear “serves usually only to escalate tensions, where the real goal of police is to de-escalate tension.”

The ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, and others are calling for less provocative weaponry in response to peaceful demonstrations, as well as more data to track the activities of SWAT teams that regularly use weaponry from the military.

The call for change comes as a growing body of research shows the cycle of police violence often begins not with a raised baton, but with the military-style armor and vehicles that police confront their communities with.



What motivation does the federal government have to arm local police? Ex-Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing told the Guardian, “I put this at the feet of the drug war.”

The initial round of funding in the ’90s was spurred by the federal government’s so-called War on Drugs, he said, and the argument that police needed weaponry to match well-armed gangs trafficking in narcotics. That justification was referenced in the ACLU’s report.

After 9/11, the desire to protect against unknown terrorist threats also spurred the militarization of police, providing a rationale for the change, whether or not it was ever justified. But a problem arises when local police start to use the tactics and gear the military uses, Downing told us.

When the LAPD officials first formed military-like SWAT teams, he said, “they always kept uppermost in their mind the police mission versus the military mission. The military has an enemy. A police officer, who is a peace officer, has no enemies.”

“The military aims to kill,” he said, “and the police officer aims to preserve life.”

And when police departments have lots of cool new toys, there is a tendency to want to use them.

When we contacted the SFPD for this story, spokesperson Albie Esparza told us, “Chief [Greg Suhr] will be the only one to speak in regards to this. He is not available for the next week or two. You may try afterwards.”



Local law enforcement agencies looking to gear up have two ways to do it: One is free and the other is low-cost. The first of those methods has been heavily covered by national news outlets following the Ferguson protests: the Department of Defense’s 1033 loan program.

The program permanently loans gear from the federal government, with strings attached. For instance, local police can’t resell any weapons they’re given.

To get the gear, first an agency must apply for it through the national Defense Logistics Agency in Fort Belvoir, Va. In California, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services is the go-between when local police file grant applications to the DLA.

The bar to apply is low. A New Hampshire law enforcement agency applied for an armored vehicle by citing that community’s Pumpkin Festival as a possible terrorism target, according to the ACLU’s report. But the report shows such gear is more likely to be used against protestors or drug dealers than festival-targeting terrorists.

“It’s like the Craigslist of military equipment, only the people getting this stuff are law enforcement agencies,” Kelly Huston, a spokesperson of OEMS, told the Guardian. “They don’t have to pay for this equipment, they just have to come get it.”

Troublingly, where and why the gear goes to local law enforcement is not tracked in a database at the state level. The Guardian made a public records requests of the SFPD and the OEMS, which have yet to be fulfilled. Huston told us the OEMS is slammed with records requests for this information.

“The majority of the documents we have are paper in boxes,” Huston told us, describing the agency’s problem with a rapid response. “This is not an automated system.”

The Guardian obtained federal grant data through 2011 from the OEMS, but with a caveat: Some of the grants only describe San Francisco County, and not the specific agency that requested equipment.

Some data of police gear requested under the 1033 loan program up to 2011 is available thanks to records requests from California Watch. The New York Times obtained more recent 1033 loan requests for the entire country, but it does not delineate specific agencies, only states.

Available data shows equipment requested by local law enforcement, which gravitates from the benign to the frightening.



An Armament Subsystem is one of the first weapons listed in the 1033 data, ordered by the SFPD in 1996. This can describe mounted machine guns for helicopters (though the SFPD informed us it has since disbanded its aero-unit). From 1995 to 1997, the SFPD ordered over 100 sets of fragmentation body armor valued at $45,000, all obtained for free. In 1996, the SFPD also ordered one grenade launcher, valued at $2,007.

Why would the SFPD need a grenade launcher in an urban setting? Chief Suhr wouldn’t answer that question, but Downing told us it was troubling.

“It’s a pretty serious piece of military hardware,” he said. “I’ll tell you a tiny, quick story. One of the first big deployments of SWAT (in Los Angeles) was the Black Panthers in the ’60s. They were holed up in a building, well armed and we knew they had a lot of weapons in there,” he said. “They barricaded the place with sandbags. Several people were wounded in the shooting, as I recall. The officers with military experience said the only way we’ll breach those sandbags and doors is with a grenade launcher.”

In those days, they didn’t have a grenade launcher at the ready, and had to go through a maze of official channels to get one.

“They had to go through the Governor’s Office to the Pentagon, and then to Camp Pendleton to get the grenade launcher,” Downing told us. “[The acting LAPD chief] said at the time, ‘Let’s go ahead and ask for it.’ It was a tough decision, because it was using military equipment against our citizens.”

But the chief never had to use the grenade launcher, Downing said. “They resolved the situation before needing it, and we said ‘thank god.'”

The grenade launcher was the most extreme of the equipment procured by local law enforcement, but there were also helicopter parts, gun sights, and multitudes of armored vehicles, like those seen in Ferguson.

By contrast, the grants programs are harder to track specifically to the SFPD, but instead encompass funds given to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Sheriff’s Department, and even some schools. That’s because the grants cover not only allow the purchase of military surplus vehicles and riot gear, but also chemical protective suits and disaster-related supplies.

But much of the requested gear and training has more to do with active police work than emergency response.

San Francisco County agencies used federal loans to purchase $113,000 “command vehicles” (which are often armored). In 2010, the SFPD purchased a $5,000 SWAT robot (which often comes equipped with cameras and a remote control), as well as $15,000 in Battle Dress Uniforms, and $48,000 for a Mobile Communications Command Vehicle.

In 2008, the SFPD ordered a Bearcat Military Counterattack Vehicle for $306,000.

The Lenco website, which manufactures Bearcats, says it “may also be equipped with our optional Mechanical Rotating Turret with Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting System, suitable for the M60, 240B and Mark 19 weapons system.”

Its essentially an armored Humvee that can be mounted with rotating gun turrets.

police embed 2

Department of Homeland Security grants were used to purchase Type 2 Mobile Field Training, which Department of Homeland Security documentation describes as involving eight grenadiers, two counter-snipers, two prisoner transportation vans, and 14 patrol vehicles.

All told, the Bay Area’s many agencies were awarded more than $386 million in federal grants between 2008 and 2011, with San Francisco netting $48 million of those rewards. Through the 1033 loan program, San Francisco obtained over $1.4 million in federal surplus gear from 1995 to 2011.

But much of that was received under the radar, and with little oversight.

“Anytime they’re going to file for this equipment, we think the police should hold a public hearing,” Matthews, the ACLU spokesperson, told us.

In San Francisco, there is a public hearing for the procurement of military weapons, at the Police Commission. But a Guardian analysis of agenda documents from the commission shows these hearings are often held after the equipment has already been ordered.

Squeezed between a “status report” and “routine administrative business,” a March 2010 agenda from the commission shows a request to “retroactively accept and expend a grant in the amount of $1,000,000.00 from the U.S. Department of Justice.”

This is not a new trend. In 2007, the Police Commission retroactively approved three separate grants totaling over $2 million in funding from the federal government through the OEMS, which was then called the Emergency Management Agency.

Police Commission President Anthony Mazzucco did not respond to the Guardian’s emails requesting an interview before our press time, but one thing is clear: The SFPD requests federal grants for military surplus, then sometimes asks the Police Commission to approve the funding after the fact.

Many are already critiquing this call to arms, saying violent gear begets violent behavior.



A UC Berkeley sociologist, with his small but driven team and an army of automatic computer programs, are now combing more than 8,000 news articles on the Occupy movement in search of a pattern: What causes police violence against protesters, and protester violence against police?

Nicholas Adams and his team, Deciding Force, already have a number of findings.

“The police have an incredible ability to set the tone for reactions,” Adams told us. “Showing up in riot gear drastically increases the chances of violence from protesters. The use of skirmish lines also increases chances of violence.”

Adams’s research uses what he calls a “buffet of information” provided by the Occupy movement, allowing him to study over 200 cities’ police responses to protesters. Often, as in Ferguson, protesters were met by police donned in equipment and gear resembling wartime soldiers.

Rachel Lederman is a warrior in her own right. An attorney in San Francisco litigating against police for over 20 years, and now the president of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area chapter, she’s long waged legal war against police violence.

Lederman is quick to note that the SFPD in recent years has been much less aggressive than the Oakland Police Department, which injured her client, Scott Olsen, in an Occupy protest three years ago.

“If you compare OPD with the San Francisco Police on the other side of the bay,” she told us, “the SFPD do have some impact munitions they bring at demonstrations, but they’ve never used them.”

Much of this is due to the SFPD’s vast experience in ensuring free speech, an SFPD spokesperson told us. San Francisco is a town that knows protests, so the SFPD understands how to peacefully negotiate with different parties beforehand to ensure a minimum of hassle, hence the more peaceful reaction to Occupy San Francisco.

Conversely, in Oakland, the Occupy movement was met by a hellfire of tear gas and flash bang grenades. Protesters vomited into the sidewalk from the fumes as others bled from rubber bullet wounds.

But some protesters the Guardian talked to noted that the night SFPD officers marched on Occupy San Francisco, members of the city’s Board of Supervisors and other prominent allies stood between Occupiers and police, calling for peace. We may never know what tactics the SFPD would have used to oust the protesters without that intervention.

As Lederman pointed out, the SFPD has used reactive tactics in other protests since.

“We’ve had some problems with SFPD recently, so I’m reluctant to totally praise them,” she said, recalling a recent incident where SFPD and City College police pepper-sprayed one student protester, and allegedly broke the wrists and concussed another. Photos of this student, Otto Pippenger, show a black eye and many bruises.

In San Francisco, a city where protesting is as common as the pigeons, that is especially distressing.

“It’s an essential part of democracy for people to be able to demonstrate in the street,” Lederman said. “If police have access to tanks, and tear gas and dogs, it threatens the essential fabric of democracy.”

Injured protester Scott Olsen demands Oakland Police reform weapon use


Injured veteran Scott Olsen is calling on Mayor Jean Quan to ban the Oakland Police Department from using less-than-lethal weapons during protests and other crowd events.

The announcement came through his attorneys at the National Lawyers Guild Tuesday night, on the heels of Oakland City Council’s vote to approve a $4.5 million payout to Olsen for brain injuries he sustained at the hands of the OPD at an Occupy Oakland protest in 2011. 

An OPD officer shot a beanbag into the crowd, striking Olsen in the head. His skull was shattered and part of his brain was destroyed. Olsen had to learn how to talk all over again. The beanbag may have been “less lethal,” he contends, but the injury cost him dearly.

“Other major Bay Area cities don’t use SIM [Specialty Impact Munitions], chemical agents, or explosives on crowds, and we don’t need them in Oakland,” Olsen said, in a press statement. “OPD can’t be trusted to abide by its policies. These dangerous weapons must be completely banned at demonstrations and other crowd events. “

The “beanbag” that struck Olsen is more accurately described as a flexible baton round, a press release from the Oakland City Attorney’s office wrote. A flexible baton is a cloth-enclosed, lead-filled round known an SIM that is fired from a shotgun. 

Olsen and his attorneys, the National Lawyers Guild, launched a petition calling for OPD to cease use of less lethal weapons on crowds, which had 45 supporters as of press time.

So-called less lethal weapons like tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and flexible baton rounds have injured over a dozen Oakland protesters, costing the city over $6.5 million in legal fees, according to the NLG.

As we’ve previously reported, OPD is currently under federal oversight over its mishandling of the Occupy protests and questionable actions in the infamous Riders case. OPD’s own Incident Statistics document the extensive use of force the night Scott Olsen was injured.

As the Guardian reported in 2012, “The document describes several types of UOF. On Oct. 25, these included baton (26 uses), chemical agent (21 total uses), non-striking use of baton (19 times), control hold (five), four uses of ‘weaponless defense technique’ and five uses of ‘weaponless defense technique to vulnerable area.’ In four reported instances, police ‘attempted impact weapon strike but missed.’”

Ultimately, Oakland will pay only $1.5 million of the $4.5 million settlement, city spokesperson Alex Katz wrote in a press release. The city’s insurance will pay the rest.

But the danger is far greater than fiscal.

Jim Chanin, one of Olsen‘s attorneys, noted that people have been inadvertently killed by less lethal weapons before, including a bystander in a 2003 incident in Boston. 

“If OPD is allowed to continue to shoot SIM and toss explosives into crowds,” Chanin said, “it is only a matter of time before someone is killed.”

Unanswered question on SF housing


Nobody has a good answer to San Francisco’s most basic housing problem: How do we build the housing that existing city residents need? It was a question the Guardian has been posing for many years, and one that I again asked a panel of journalists and housing advocates on March 14, again getting no good answers.

The question is an important one given Mayor Ed Lee’s so-called "affordability agenda" and pledge to build 30,000 new housing units, a third of them somehow affordable, by 2020. And it’s a question that led to the founding 30 years ago of Bridge Housing, the builder of affordable and supportive housing that assembled this media roundtable.

"There really isn’t one thing, there needs to be a lot of changes in a lot of areas to make it happen," was the closest that Bridge CEO Cynthia Parker came to answering the question.

One of those things is a general obligation bond measure this fall to fund affordable housing and transportation projects around the Bay Area, which Bridge and a large coalition of other partners are pushing. That would help channel some of the booming Bay Area’s wealth into its severely underfunded affordable housing and transit needs.

When I brought up other ideas from our March 12 Guardian editorial ("Lee must pay for his promises") for capturing more of the city’s wealth — such as new taxes on tech companies, a congestion pricing charge, and downtown transit assessment districts — Parker replied, "We’d be in favor of a lot of that."

Yet it’s going to take far more proactive, aggressive, and creative actions to really bridge the gap between the San Francisco Housing Element’s analysis that 60 percent of new housing should be below-market-rate and affordable to those earning 120 percent or less of the area median income, and the less than 20 percent that San Francisco is actually building and promoting through its policies. (Steven T. Jones)

No charges in CCSF protest

The two formerly jailed City College student protesters can now breathe a sigh of relief, as they learned March 19 that the District Attorney’s Office won’t be filing criminal charges against them.

Otto Pippenger, 20, and Dimitrios Philliou, 21, were detained by SFPD following a violent clash during a City College protest on March 13. Their ideological and physical fight for democracy at their school is also the subject of one of our print articles in this week’s Guardian ("Democracy for none," March 18). Philliou’s attorney confirmed to the Guardian that charges were not pursued by the District Attorney’s Office.

"The charges have been dropped for now, in terms of the criminal case," said Rachel Lederman, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing Philliou.

But, she noted, they’re not out of the fire yet.

"The fight is not over for them," she said, "as it’s possible they’ll face school discipline."

Heidi Alletzhauser, Pippenger’s mother, told the Guardian that Vice Chancellor Faye Naples indicated the two would face some sort of disciplinary hearing, though Naples told Alletzhauser that Pippenger would not be expelled. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

Activists cross the border

Last November, the Guardian profiled Alex Aldana, a queer immigration activist who was born in Mexico but came to Pomona, California with his mother and sister on a visa at the age of 16 ("Undocumented and unafraid," 11/12/14).

On March 18, Aldana joined a group of undocumented immigrants in a protest at the US border crossing at Otay Mesa in San Diego. Chanting together as a group, they marched over the border and presented themselves to U.S. Immigration and Customs and Border protection agents, whom they asked for asylum.

Among the immigrants who surrendered to immigration agents were women, children, and teens. Some are separated from their husbands, children, and families in the US and, like my own mother (see "They deported my mom," March 11), wish to be reunited.

The youth protesters were brought to the US earlier in childhood, but deported to Mexico after being taken into custody and detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some would have qualified to remain under the Dream Act, but were forced to leave the country before it was signed into law.

The protesters marched toward the turnstiles that separate Mexico and the US, chanting "Yes we can," and "No human is illegal."

A few feet from the gates, the group paused to listen to a final pep talk from Aldana.

The action was captured and recorded in real time on U-Stream. About 16 minutes into the video, he can be seen addressing the crowd, fist raised. "We have nothing to lose but our chains," Aldana told the group. Then, in Spanish, he said, "Without papers," to which his fellow protesters responded, "without fear."

They made their way to the turnstiles and one by one they walked through, straight into custody of US border guards. As they crossed the border, they told a cameraperson where they hoped to go. They named cities, such as Phoenix and Tucson, and states, such as Alabama, Oregon, and North Carolina. But each one said, in English or Spanish, "we’re going home."

It was part of a series of organized border crossings by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, to highlight the experiences of young people who lived for years in the United States but were deported due to their immigration status. In Aldana’s case, he traveled to Mexico voluntarily, due to a family emergency. (Francisco Alvarado)

Oakland settles with injured Occupier

Iraq War veteran and injured Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, 26, won a settlement of $4.5 million from the city of Oakland in a federal lawsuit, his attorneys announced March 21.

At the tail end of a thousands-strong 2011 Occupy Oakland protest, an Oakland Police Department officer fired a beanbag directly into Olsen’s head, causing serious and lasting brain injury. His attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that was why the payout was so high.

"His bones were shattered, part of his brain was destroyed," she told the Guardian. "He’d been working as a computer system network administrator. He’s not going back to that kind of work, and it compensates him for his wage loss for his lifetime."

But in the end, she said, "No amount of money can put his head back together." (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

Guardian seeks columnists

The Bay Guardian is looking for a pair of new freelance writers to do separate monthly columns covering the technology industry and economic/social justice issues. The two new columns would go into a rotation we’re tentatively calling Soul of the City, along with Jason Henderson’s Street Fight column and a new environmental column by News Editor Rebecca Bowe that we’ll debut in our Earth Day issue.

For the technology column, we want someone with a deep understanding of this industry, its economic and personality drivers, and the role it could and should play in the civic life of San Francisco and nearby communities. We aren’t looking for gadget reviews or TechCrunch-style evangelizing or fetishizing of the tech sector, but someone with an illuminating, populist perspective that appeals to a broad base of Guardian readers.

The other column, on economic and social justice issues, would cover everything from housing rights to labor to police accountability issues, with an eye toward how San Francisco can maintain its diversity and cultural vibrancy. We want someone steeped in Bay Area political activism and advocacy, but with an independent streak and fearless desire to speak truth to power.

We strongly encourage candidates of color, young people, and those representing communities that need a stronger voice in the local political discourse to apply.

If you’re interested, please sent your qualifications and concepts, along with one sample column and ideas for future columns, to Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones at steve@sfbg.com. Help us escalate this fight for the soul of the city by adding your voice to the Guardian’s mix.

Injured Occupy Oakland protester and veteran Scott Olsen wins $4.5 million settlement


Iraq war veteran and injured Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, 26, won a settlement of $4.5 million from the city of Oakland in a federal lawsuit, his attorneys announced today. 

At the tail end of a thousands strong 2011 Occupy Oakland protest, an Oakland Police Department officer fired a beanbag directly into Olsen’s head, causing serious and lasting brain injury. His attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that was why the payout was so high.

“His bones were shattered, part of his brain was destroyed,” she told the Guardian. “He’d been working as a computer system network administrator. He’s not going back to that kind of work, and it compensates him for his wage loss for his lifetime.”

But in the end, she said, “No amount of money can put his head back together.”

Video of the Occupy Oakland protest in 2011, including video shortly after Olsen was injured.

The “beanbag” is more accurately described as a flexible baton round, a press release from the Oakland City Attorney’s office wrote. A flexible baton is a cloth-enclosed, lead-filled round fired from a shotgun.

In an interview with the Political Fail blog shortly after the lawsuit was announced in 2012, Olsen said the lawsuit was about more than himself. 

“We want to hold the police department accountable so we can hopefully prevent police brutality in the future,” he said, speaking slowly. 

Olsen is not the OPD’s only worry. OPD is currently under federal oversight over its questionable actions in incidents like the Riders case, and the mishandling of the Occupy protests. As then-Guardian reporter Yael Chanoff reported in 2012, the OPD’s own Incident Statistics document the extensive use of force the night Scott Olsen was injured.

She wrote “The document describes several types of UOF. On Oct. 25, these included baton (26 uses), chemical agent (21 total uses), non-striking use of baton (19 times), control hold (five), four uses of ‘weaponless defense technique’ and five uses of ‘weaponless defense technique to vulnerable area.’ In four reported instances, police ‘attempted impact weapon strike but missed.’”

Ultimately the City of Oakland will pay only $1.5 million of the $4.5 million settlement, city spokesperson Alex Katz wrote in a press release. The city’s insurance will pay the rest.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said the payout was about justice, but is also about saving Oakland money in the long run.

“This settlement will save the City the far greater costs of a trial and potentially much higher judgment,” she said. “This is a fair settlement given the facts of the case and the significant injuries Mr. Olsen sustained.”

Left turn?



Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney and activist with a long history of working with radical leftist political movements, joined a group of more than 150 supporters in front of Oakland City Hall on Jan. 9 to announce his candidacy for mayor.

With this development, the mayor’s race in Oakland is sure to be closely watched by Bay Area progressives. Siegel’s bid represents a fresh challenge from the left against Mayor Jean Quan at a time when concerns about policing, intensifying gentrification, and economic inequality are on the rise.

Siegel is the latest in a growing list of challengers that includes Joe Tuman, a political science professor who finished fourth in the 2010 mayor’s race; Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaaf; and Port Commissioner Bryan Parker.

In a campaign kickoff speech emphasizing the ideals of social and economic justice, Siegel laid out a platform designed “to make Oakland a safe city.” But he brought an unusual spin to this oft-touted goal, saying, “We need people to be safe from the despair and hopelessness that comes from poverty and long-term unemployment. We need safety for our tenants from unjust evictions and … gentrification.”

Siegel voiced support for raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. He also called for shuttering Oakland’s recently approved Domain Awareness Center, a controversial surveillance hub that integrates closed circuit cameras, license plate recognition software, and other technological law enforcement tools funded by a $10.9 million grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

He spoke about pushing for improvements in public education “to level the playing field between children from affluent backgrounds and children from poor backgrounds,” and described his vision for reorganizing the Oakland Police Department to foster deeper community engagement.

Among Siegel’s supporters are East Bay organizers with a deep history of involvement in social justice campaigns. His campaign co-chair is Walter Reilly, a prominent Oakland National Lawyers Guild attorney who said he’s been involved with civil rights movements for years. “This is a continuation of that struggle,” Reilly told the Bay Guardian, adding that leadership affiliated with “a progressive and class-conscious movement” is sorely needed in Oakland.

Left Coast Communications was tapped as Siegel’s campaign consultant. Siegel’s communications director is Cat Brooks, an instrumental figure in Occupy Oakland and the grassroots movement that arose in response to the fatal BART police shooting of Oscar Grant, whose Onyx Organizing Committee is focused on racial justice issues.

Olga Miranda, an organizer with San Francisco janitors union, SEIU Local 87, also spoke on Siegel’s behalf during the kickoff event. “San Francisco has become for the rich, and we understand that,” she said. “But at the same time, Oakland isn’t even taking care of its own.”

Referencing a recent surge in Oakland housing prices due in part to an influx of renters priced out of San Francisco, she added, “Dan understands that if you live in Oakland, you should be able to stay in Oakland.”

Siegel’s decision to challenge Quan for the Mayor’s Office has attracted particular interest since he previously served as her legal advisor, but their relationship soured after a public disagreement.

In the fall of 2011, when the Occupy Oakland encampment materialized overnight in front of Oakland City Hall, Siegel resigned from his post as Quan’s adviser over a difference in opinion about her handling of the protest movement. Police crackdowns on Occupy, which resulted in violence and the serious injury of veteran Scott Olsen and others, made national headlines that year.

“I thought that the Occupy movement was a great opportunity for this country to really start to understand the issues of inequality in terms of wealth and power,” Siegel told the Bay Guardian when queried about that. “And I thought the mayor should embrace that movement, and become part of it and even become a leader of it. And obviously, that’s not what happened.”

Since then, his relationship with Quan has been “Cool. As in temperature, not like in hip,” he said during an interview. “I don’t want to make this personal. But we have a difference about policy and leadership.”

With Oakland’s second mayoral election under ranked-choice voting, the race could prove fascinating for Bay Area politicos. Also called instant runoff voting, the system allows voters to select their first, second, and third choice candidates. If nobody wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the last-place candidates are eliminated in subsequent rounds and their vote redistributed until one candidate crosses the majority threshold.

Quan, who ran on a progressive platform in 2010, was elected despite winning fewer first-place votes than her centrist opponent, former State Senate President Don Perata. She managed to eke out an electoral victory with a slim margin (51 percent versus Perata’s 49), after voting tallies buoyed her to the top with the momentum of second- and third-place votes, many gleaned from ballots naming Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan as first choice.

Early polling conducted by David Binder Research showed Quan to be in the lead with the ability to garner 32 percent of the vote, as compared with 22 percent for Tuman, who placed second. That’s despite Quan’s incredibly low approval ratings — 54 percent of respondents said they disapproved of her performance in office.

When Schaaf announced her candidacy in November, Robert Gammon of the East Bay Express opined, “Schaaf’s candidacy … likely will make it much more difficult for Quan to win, particularly if no true progressive candidate emerges in the months ahead.” But Siegel’s entry into the race means there is now a clear progressive challenger.

The Guardian endorsed Kaplan as first choice in 2010, and gave Quan a second-place endorsement. While there has been some speculation as to whether Kaplan would run this time around — the David Binder Research poll suggested she would be a formidable opponent to Quan — Kaplan, who is Oakland’s councilmember-at-large, hasn’t filed.

Siegel, meanwhile, cast his decision to run as part of a broader trend. “I feel that not only in Oakland, but across the country, things are really ripe for change,” he told the Guardian.

Indeed, one of the biggest recent national political stories has been the election of Kshama Sawana, a socialist who rose to prominence during the Occupy Wall Street movement, to the Seattle City Council.

“When you have a city like Oakland where so many people are in poverty or on the edge of poverty, or don’t have jobs or face evictions,” Siegel told us, “it’s no wonder that the social contract falls apart. It seems to me that what government should do is elevate the circumstances of all people, and particularly people who are poor and disadvantaged.”

Port of Oakland work stoppage gets chaotic

A work stoppage at the Port of Oakland became somewhat chaotic this morning.

An Oakland police officer had his foot run over by a vehicle crossing a picket line, but opted not to press charges against the driver.

“He’s fine,” said Officer Johnna Watson, a spokesperson for OPD. “He continues to work.”

The incident occurred in front of the gate area of Berths 57, 58 and 59, near 1999 Middle Harbor Road. Picketers gathered early this morning (Wed/27) as part of a work stoppage staged by independent truck drivers who fear job loss on Jan. 1, when their trucks fall out of compliance with new clean-air regulations that will take effect at the port.

Asked for the name of the police officer and the identity of the driver, Watson said, “We’re not going to share any of that information.” She added, “It’s an unfortunate accident. The officer does not want to charge the driver with anything. His primary goal and function was the safety of the protesters in the roadway.”

One of the picketers said a vehicle struck her as it drove across the picket line, but police did not apprehend the driver.

“It all happened really quickly,” said Effie Rawlings, the woman who was struck.  “We were on the picket line. We were walking in circles. There were police there. This one person in a car was trying to pass through. The car lurched into the picket line and hit me. It knocked me off my feet into some other people.” Rawlings said she was bruised and sore but not seriously injured.

She said she did not get a good look at the driver or the vehicle, which continued driving after the collision occurred.

It is unclear whether this was the same vehicle that also ran over the police officer’s foot, but Rawlings said both incidents occurred in the same timeframe. While she did not see the police officer get his foot run over, Rawlings said she did witness the officer’s reaction. “I saw him walking away, making some noise about it. He was kind of cursing and whatnot.”

Watson said police did not receive any reports of anyone else being struck by a vehicle.

The picket began a little after 5am today (Wed/27). The work stoppage was staged by independent truck drivers who are seeking emergency assistance to help them comply with clean-air regulations that will take effect on Jan. 1. Since many cannot afford engine upgrades that would bring them into compliance with the rule change, many will be unable to work at the port as a result.

The Oakland Police Department issued at least five citations to picketers, for blocking traffic. Elizabeth Flynn, who served as a spokesperson for the picketers, estimated that between 50 and 70 gathered at entranceways throughout the port. Watson said police estimated there were 30 to 40 picketers as of 6:30am.

As the Guardian reported in this week’s paper, the California Air Resources Board made $58 million available in 2011 to assist financially strapped truck drivers in obtaining compliant vehicles. Although only $10 million was spent for this purpose, the remainder of that funding was reallocated, and is no longer available for truckers facing possible job loss.

Breathe Owl Breathe’s van and gear stolen in Berkeley


Below is a note from the touring musicians of indie folk group Breathe Owl Breathe — their van was stolen last night in Berkeley, and they need your help in tracking it down. Sadly, all of their musical equipment, gear, clothing, and laptops were in the vehicle.

The band has provided a list of the specific instruments taken. Here’s the info they sent:


Last night between midnight and 11 am from the Berkeley Hills area (Oakland, CA). Everything we own was in the vehicle. All of our musical equipment, including a laptop, and clothing. Please share this post far and wide- help get the word out! If you see a 1998 Ford Econoline Van (see picture) anywhere in the Bay Area or beyond, call the Oakland Police Department (510) 777-3333.

One way you could help is to search Craigslist, or local flea markets, for any of the more unique instruments that were with us in the van:

-Amati Cello (in blue hard shell case)
-Lowrey Wandering Genie keyboard/organ
-Lowrey Genie Mach III Plus
-Larivee Acoustic Guitar
-1965 Fender Pedal Bass
-Mint Green Fender Excels
-Holy Grail Reverb Pedal (older style, large version)
-Roland SP-404 sampler (with dent on bottom face)
-Lyle semi-hollow body electric guitar
-Fender Vibroverb Guitar amp
-Roland KC-550 Keyboard amp
-Fishman acoustic amp
-4 piece Adonis drumset (wood finish)

(Breathe Owl Breathe was profled last year on SFBG.com)

Alerts: July 24 – 31



Milk Club Dinner & Gayla Roccapulco Supper Club, 3140 Mission, SF. http://milkdinner2013.eventbrite.com. 7-10pm, $40 and up. Join the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club in celebrating 37 years of queer progressive leadership. Featuring U.S. Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, staunch advocate for the successful repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy affecting LGBT service members, as keynote speaker. Milk Club honorees include whistleblower Bradley Manning, queer activist group ACT UP, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and others.


Forum: The worst international trade deal you’ve never heard of First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, 1187 Franklin, SF. 7-9pm, free. You may or may not have heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational “free-trade” agreement that’s being hashed out largely behind closed doors. Why should you are? Here’s a hint: It’s being orchestrated by the likes of Chevron, Halliburton, Walmart, and major financial firms among others. Join experts in globalization and learn about international resistance to this shady trade deal.


Party with Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute 1715 Francisco St., Berk. (510) 848-0599. 1:30-4pm, donation requested. This benefit gathering for a unique think tank on human rights will include a special treat: Oakland attorney Walter Riley will deliver a talk on “getting the Oakland Police Department to obey the law.” And just in case you require more discussion on our eroding civil liberties to make your hair stand up, there will also be discussion about how drones violate the California Constitution.


Teach-in: immigration and labor ILWU Local 34 union hall, 801 2nd St., SF. (415) 362-8852, http://www.lclaa.org. 7-9pm, free. Join the International Longshore and Workers Union for this Laborfest event, offering a concise history of labor and immigration in California. The history of the Bracero Program is key to understanding the current Congressional debate about immigration reform. Featuring members of the Association of Braceros of Northern California. Al Rojas, a labor organizer and with Labor Council For Latin America Advancement, LCLAA, of Sacramento, will discuss the continuing struggle of California Braceros for justice and the connection of the struggle for immigrant rights.


Protesters to be awarded $1 million settlement in mass arrest lawsuit

A federal judge has granted preliminary approval for a settlement of more than $1 million to a group of 150 activists who were mass arrested in Oakland three years ago. The National Lawyers Guild filed the federal class action civil-rights suit on behalf of the protesters, who in some cases were held for more than 24 hours despite never facing formal charges.

The mass arrest took place on Nov. 5, 2010, when activists marched in opposition to the light sentence handed down to Johannes Mehserle, the former BART officer who was tried for murder after he shot and killed unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant.

After winding through the streets in downtown Oakland, protesters took a turn toward Fruitvale Station, where Grant was fatally shot. But instead, police in riot gear forced them into a residential neighborhood where they were kettled in and mass-arrested for unlawful assembly.

There’s a process for making mass arrests that is clearly laid out in OPD’s crowd control policy, “to comply with California law and the U.S. constitution. That would involve giving a warning, and then allowing people to disperse,” Rachel Lederman of the NLG points out. “This was a perfectly legal demonstration,” and with the exception of one or two individuals who vandalized bus windows during the march, the vast majority of protesters did not engage in illegal activity.

Instead of being cited and released, or simply allowed to disperse once police declared the march to be “unlawful,” the 150 demonstrators who were penned in by police were sent through a long and uncomfortable booking process, Lederman said. They were left sitting on the street, then loaded onto buses and vans where they were made to wait, still handcuffed, for up to 6 hours in some cases. (Note: This reporter was kettled in along with protesters initially but then allowed to leave when police created an exit for members of the media. From there, all reporters were sent to an area cordoned off by police tape, where it was difficult to observe the arrests. So reporters were essentially given the choice between being sent to jail, which would have made it difficult to file a timely story, or being roped off in an area far from where police activity could be observed. But that’s a different story.)

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department then sent demonstrators through a lengthy jail booking process, even though in similar circumstances, arrestees have typically been cited and released. They were placed in overcrowded, temporary holding cells with no beds and no chairs. “People needed medical attention that they didn’t get,” Lederman said. “No food was provided for more than twelve hours after our initial detention,” noted plaintiff Katie Loncke. “There was no room to lie down. I sat up against a wall for the entire night.”

Lederman said she expects protesters who were part of the class action suit to receive somewhere around $4,500 each in settlement payments. In addition to the monetary payment, the settlement agreement reaffirms and reincorporates OPD’s crowd control policy for up to seven years.

That policy dates back to 2004, when the NLG and the American Civil Liberties Union jointly drafted the regulations in the wake of an anti-war demonstration where police fired rubber bullets into the crowd, resulting in serious injuries and intense scrutiny on the police department’s practices.

While OPD complied with the crowd control policy in the first years after it was implemented, Lederman said, there were relatively few mass mobilizations in the streets of Oakland until those mounted in response to the Oscar Grant shooting. Those street demonstrations were followed by 2011 mass marches organized in conjunction with the Occupy movement.

“Our primary goal, and our clients’ primary goal, was to stop” unlawful police practices that violated OPD’s crowd control policy, Lederman said, “so that people can be freer to organize on the streets.”

Reports of grenade-type devices used in West Oakland raid

A high profile police raid occurred last night in multiple East Bay locations, with most activity centered at the Acorn public housing complex in West Oakland. According to recent news reports, some 150 FBI agents and support staff carried out the raid, along with 120 Oakland police officers and other law enforcement officers from San Leandro, Hayward and Antioch.

OPD Chief Howard Jordan told reporters at a press conference that the raid targeted the Acorn gang of West Oakland, and that officers made five arrests, served 16 narcotics and weapons warrants, and seized firearms, heroin, cocaine and marijuana.  

An official statement attributed to OPD spokesperson Johnna Watson in a Chronicle report suggested that police did not use force during the operation. This suggests OPD does not consider deploying grenade-type devices (considered to be “less lethal weapons”) to be “use of force,” because residents living nearby the Acorn housing complex at Eighth and Adeline streets told the Guardian that they heard loud bangs, probably from flash grenades, go off when the operation was underway around 7:30 Wednesday night.

A neighbor who lives nearby the apartment complex, who asked not to be identified, had a partial view of the police activity from their West Oakland residence. The person described the operation as “like a military presence” due to the sheer number of officers, many outfitted in SWAT gear, and “very precise,” targeting a specific address and lasting roughly an hour and 15 minutes. The streets surrounding the apartment complex were closed off for the duration of the raid.

The neighbor estimated that the flash grenades (or similar devices) were used five times, but since the explosions produce echoes, there could have been fewer deployments. The observer wasn’t able to see how they were used because there wasn’t a clear view of the unit, but heard the bangs in sequence. An OPD officer could be heard addressing occupants inside one of the units on a loudspeaker, reading out the address, telling them they were surrounded, and then saying something like, “you in the suit, get down, get down on the ground.”

The neighbor said they observed three people being removed from the unit and taken into custody – a man who was wearing a suit, a person in a motorized wheelchair, and a tall, younger-looking man. The arrestees were cooperative. 

The West Oakland resident also reported seeing an armored vehicle parked at the scene. A host of official OPD vehicles were parked along the street, along with unmarked cars including SUVs and white vans. 

More details about the massive police operation, the targeted gang, and the criminal activity the cops zeroed in on are sure to come out. A lot of outstanding questions remain, of course, including why officers decided to use the grenade-type devices. So far, OPD hasn’t responded to our email or voice message, but we’ll post the department’s response if we receive one.

Attorney who conducted whistleblower cops’ deposition says questions remain

The Guardian broke the story last week about an Oakland school police officer, Sgt. Jonathan Bellusa, who came forward as a “whistleblower” in sworn testimony. The day after a group of Oakland-based police-accountability activists leaked an uncertified draft of the officer’s deposition to the media, NBC Bay Area aired an interview with Bellusa, who was involved in the January 2011 fatal shooting of a 20-year-old African American man, Raheim Brown.

Bellusa, who is now on leave from employment, alleges that there was a cover-up in the investigation of the shooting incident by the Oakland School Police Department, which operates independently from the Oakland Police Department as a division of the school district. Shortly after posting the story, the Guardian received a call back from attorney Adante Pointer, who conducted Bellusa’s deposition. Pointer said he didn’t know how the activist group, Against Hired Guns, got a copy of the document but he did point out that all witnesses get a copy of their deposition transcripts.

“I’ve taken a number of depositions over the course of my career, but this is the first time I’ve ever had a police officer admit that their employer was putting pressure on them to give testimony in a particular way,” said Pointer, who works for the Law Offices of John Burris, which is representing Brown’s family in a civil suit against the school police department. “It’s very eye-opening,” he added, particularly if Bellusa’s allegations ring true and “public funds and public resources are being used to cover up this death.”

But Pointer added that some of the things Bellusa stated about the facts of the shooting did not add up with the stories given by Sgt. Barhin Bhatt, who fired the weapon, or witness Tamisha Stewart, Brown’s friend who was seated in a vehicle next to him when he was shot. Bellusa “held firm to this idea that he had been stabbed three to four times with this screwdriver,” Pointer said, referencing a part in the deposition when Bellusa testified he had been hit with the butt end of a screwdriver and feared he would be stabbed in the throat.

But that doesn’t jive with the account of Stewart, who stated in her sworn testimony that the screwdriver stayed in the car ignition during the whole encounter, Pointer told the Guardian. Stewart was held in jail following the shooting for several weeks, and during that time she discussed what had happened with family and friends in telephone conversations, Pointer told the Guardian. What Stewart did not know was that her phone calls, placed from a phone provided by the jail, were being surreptitiously recorded. Pointer said his firm had been provided with tapes of the calls.

In those recorded conversations, “She was candid about everything else,” according to Pointer. “And she said she never saw Raheim try to stab [Bellusa].” Bhatt, meanwhile, told Pointer in his own deposition that he started firing because he saw Brown make a move toward the gear shifter, Pointer said, which also doesn’t add up with Bellusa’s account.

All of which goes to show that, whistleblower cop or no, questions continue to surround the fatal shooting of Brown.

Oakland school cop comes forward as a whistleblower

Two years after his involvement in a police shooting that took the life of a 20-year-old African American man, an Oakland School Police Department officer has come forward as a “whistleblower” in sworn testimony, making allegations of unethical behavior within a department that is already under the scrutiny of federal investigators.

In a deposition delivered earlier this month as part of a civil suit, police Sergeant Jonathan Bellusa gave a detailed account of what transpired just before his patrol partner, Sgt. Barhin Bhatt, fired several rounds and killed Raheim Brown as the youth was positioned in the passenger’s seat of a car outside a high school dance in January of 2011.

Bellusa gave testimony that in the months that followed, he came under retaliatory pressure from within the department and was “uncomfortable” with various aspects of how the investigation unfolded.

An unedited, uncertified transcript of Bellusa’s deposition, which contains some grammatical and punctuation errors because it was transcribed by an automated system, was made public Feb. 28 by a group of activists organized under a project called “Against Hired Guns.” The group sent a detailed summary and analysis of the deposition, as well as the unedited transcript, to reporters. The activists also posted the contents on a website, againsthiredguns.wordpress.com.

Asked who is behind Against Hired Guns, spokesperson Cat Brooks said they are Oakland activists “who have been doing this work either together on campaigns, or separately inside of our own groups, that see strength in numbers rather than apart. We in general are tired of having flashpoint reactions to police corruption or violence, and are interested in bringing as many people or groups together as possible to have a sustained campaign that is focused on eradicating police violence.”

Bellusa is currently on leave from employment at the Oakland school police department, and the Guardian was unable to reach him by phone on the number listed on the OUSD website. “He’s been gone for quite awhile,” OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint told the Guardian when reached by phone. Asked to comment on the myriad allegations raised in Bellusa’s testimony, Flint said, “We’re going to refrain from comment until we’ve seen the actual suit.”

The deposition was conducted by Attorney Adante Pointer of the Law Offices of John Burris, in connection with a civil rights suit that is being filed against OUSD by Brown’s mother, Lori Davis. Reached by phone, Pointer confirmed that he had taken Bellusa’s deposition several weeks ago, and was surprised that its contents had been made public, since it “is not complete yet.” He added, “I’m thinking to myself, who put that out there?” As of press time, Pointer had not returned a follow up phone call.

Brooks declined to answer questions about how the activists obtained a copy of the uncertified transcript.

Allegations of retaliation for whistleblowing

Roughly a month after the shooting incident, Bellusa said in his deposition, former OUSD Police Chief Pete Sarna let out “a boisterous yell with his [fist] up in the air” and seemed “excited” that “we as a department don’t have to worry about anything.” According to Bellusa’s testimony, Sarna had just received word that his “friend” Pete Peterson had “agreed to do the investigation” of the fatal shooting of Brown.

Asked if he felt pressured by supervisors to make statements consistent with Bhatt’s account of the shooting incident, Bellusa stated, “I have felt that if I gave statements that went against the district that I would be thrown in jail for perjury.”

In the months after the shooting, Bellusa testified that he filed a formal complaint alleging that Sarna drunkenly made racist remarks to an African American sergeant in July of 2011. Sarna resigned the following month.

Bellusa also testified that on an August morning in 2011, after he’d filed the complaint against Sarna for allegedly making racial slurs, he overheard a conversation between OUSD General Counsel Jacqueline Minor and Superintendent Tony Smith. “I over heard Jackie Minor… say they were not going to let John get away with this,” he stated.

In another incident, Bellusa testified that a different OUSD officer informed him that “Chief Sarna’s assistant, Jenny Wong, told a bunch of officers something like: ‘Don’t worry, Sarna is going to beat this case. He’s going to fire John [Bellusa].’”

After Sarna stepped down, Bhatt was briefly appointed interim police chief, unleashing an outcry from OUSD parents outraged that an officer would be promoted to the top post after shooting and killing Brown just months before. Alameda County prosecutors had since cleared Bhatt of any wrongdoing in the shooting that resulted in Brown’s death.

In response to the backlash, Bhatt was removed and replaced with Police Chief James Williams in September of 2011. The shooting of Brown, coupled with Sarna’s alleged use of racial slurs, prompted a federal grand jury investigation into the OUSD police force last year. Bellusa noted in his testimony that he had described his experience to federal investigators.

Taken as a whole, Bellusa’s testimony renders a disturbing internal portrait of the Oakland School Police Department, which consists of about a dozen officers and operates independently of the Oakland Police Department as a division of the school district.

The alarming account raises serious questions about internal operations of the department, particularly since it is an independent force operated by the school district at a time when funding cuts have placed the public school system under tremendous budgetary pressure, resulting in recent school closures.

Allegations of corruption

A detailed summary of the transcript provided by Against Hired Guns highlights more disturbing allegations made by Bellusa in the course of his testimony. Among them:

  • Bellusa asserted that he witnessed Bhatt pour Wild Turkey into a glass while he was on duty. He also said he felt concerned about Bhatt after observing him “clean his firearm for a long period of time.”                                                                      
  • Bellusa testified that he “found out” that Sarna and Lou Silva, a former OUSD officer and current district-wide Campus Security and Safety Manager, were “sending their personal cars down to a shop on 16th Avenue… [and] were overcharging the police cars,” apparently in order to have their personal cars repaired for free or at a deep discount.
  • Bellusa testified, “I found out that he [Sarna] called another officer [and] told him [not to report] what had happened in front of the African American who is a witness to the … racial slurs.”

Officer-involved shooting

Brown was shot and killed outside a dance at Oakland’s Skyline High School on Jan. 22, 2011. He was sitting in the passenger’s seat of a Honda with a friend, Tamisha Stewart, who was in the driver’s seat. Bellusa and Bhatt pulled up behind them in an unmarked patrol car after noticing the lights of the Honda were flashing. Bhatt made his way to the driver’s window, Bellusa testified, while he flanked the rear passenger’s side of the car.

As Bhatt began a verbal exchange with Stewart, Bellusa testified that he noticed Brown was “fidgety” rather than cooperative, which he interpreted as a “red flag.” He opened the passenger door, crouched into what he described as a “catcher’s stance,” and initiated a verbal exchange with Brown. Shortly after opening the door, Bellusa said he made observations that led him to conclude that the car had been stolen.

When Pointer asked him where his hands were at that point, Bellusa stated, “They were on his lap,” according to the transcript. “Were they holding anything?” Pointer asked. “No,” Bellusa responded. “And so did you ask him to step out of the car when you’re having this conversation with him?” Pointer asked. “Not at that time,” Bellusa answered. 

Bellusa said Brown then grabbed a screwdriver and stuck into the ignition of the vehicle, directing Stewart to drive. This prompted a struggle between Brown and Bellusa. According to a summary of the transcript written by the group of activists:

“Bellusa lunged into the car, grabbing [Brown] from behind as Brown was leaned over toward the ignition. …Bellusa tried to hold Brown, and then grabbed him, pulling Brown’s shirt and ripping it. Bhatt, leaning in through the driver’s window, hit Brown with his flashlight. … Brown had not yet made any aggressive move toward anyone, according to Bellusa’s description of events.”

A struggle ensued, and Bellusa testified that at one point Brown bit Bellusa’s wrist, prompting Bellusa to pull his hand away and use his “hammer fist” to strike him. Brown then grabbed the screwdriver from the car’s ignition, and “I believe that the backside of the screwdriver [was what] he used at that point to strike me in the chest,” Bellusa testified.

“As the struggle ensued and neither fighter gave in,” activists wrote, “[Brown] turned the screwdriver around and tried to make contact with Bellusa.”

According to Bellusa’s sworn testimony, “I was afraid that I was going to get stabbed in the throat clear as day.” He told his partner to shoot Brown: “I just screamed shoot him, shoot him,” he testified.

The Against Hired Guns summary describes what happened next. “As Bellusa pulled himself out of the car, two shots were quickly fired through the driver’s open window … by Bhatt before his gun jammed. Raheim Brown, Jr. had two bullets lodged in his body. It took Sergeant Bhatt five to ten seconds to clear the chamber of his gun, during which time he said loudly: ‘Fuck! Fuck!’ By this time, Bellusa was out of the car and at a safe distance, he said in his deposition. When asked whether he thought Brown was still a risk after the first two shots, Bellusa replied plainly: ‘No,’ and said that by this point, he had his own gun out. When asked why he didn’t pull his trigger, he replied: ‘Just like I said my statement with OPD, I didn’t see a threat.’

‘Tell me … about the gun’ 

Bellusa explained in his deposition that he’d noticed a gun sitting in the side pocket of the vehicle during the incident, but did not alert Bhatt that the gun was there until after the shooting had occurred. When Pointer asked, “And prior to you screaming ‘shoot him, shoot him’ you hadn’t said anything related to the gun?” Bellusa responded: “No.”

Shortly after the shooting, Bellusa testified he had an interaction with Sarna, then-OUSD chief, and Smith, the OUSD superintendent. According to details included in the deposition, this conversation took place at Oakland Police Department (OPD) headquarters, after Bhatt and Bellusa had been separated, prior to any formal interview with OPD regarding the shooting.

According to Bellusa’s testimony, Smith questioned him directly. “He said specifically ‘John, tell me where the gun was. Tell me everything you can remember about the gun and what it looked like.’”

Penetrating the Thin Blue Line

An introductory statement from Against Hired Guns notes that Bellusa “will likely be considered a ‘good’ cop” for publicly airing these allegations and making an unusual break from the code of silence that typically binds police departments.

Yet the activists aren’t willing to let the sergeant off the hook so easily. Asked why they took steps to preempt release of this information, Brooks, the spokesperson for Against Hired Guns, told the Guardian, “We thought that it was important so that the debate could be framed as part of the larger context of police and violence in Oakland, as opposed to this cop has now done something good, which makes him a good cop. … He was still present the night Raheim was murdered.”

Against Hired Guns wrote in an analysis included in press materials, “It has now been over two years since Raheim’s family lost him to the violence of policing.  They have relentlessly searched for justice and still do not know exactly what happened to him. At the very least, Bellusa or any of the people or agencies he spoke with, could have explained the context of Raheim’s killing to his family members, who continue to grieve and struggle with the loss of their son, father and lover.” 

The activists’ summary frames the issue in this way: “Sergeant Bellusa has now penetrated the ‘thin blue line’ that shields corrupt, abusive, violent police officers and departments. We are releasing this information as part of … a series that places the statements of Bellusa’s testimony in the larger overall context of policing in our society [and] the ‘thin blue line’ that protects officers from any consequences.”

Bratton controversy divides Oakland community as council approves contract 7-1

Following a highly attended and closely watched meeting on Tuesday, Oakland City Council voted 7-1 to approve a $250,000 contract to hire a team of police consultants which includes controversial stop-and-frisk advocate Bill Bratton. During an eight-hour meeting that went until 2 a.m., hundreds of residents crammed into the council chambers to weigh in, some voicing concerns about what Bratton would mean for Oakland and others offering support for bringing him on to advise the Oakland Police Department (OPD) on combating crime.

While several council members voiced reservations about Bratton’s association with the controversial stop-and-frisk policy, only District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks voted against the contract. Brooks stressed that any effort to fight crime in Oakland would require more than aggressive policing, and must address the root causes of criminal activity.

“A vote against this contract tonight is not about not being serious about crime,” she said. “It’s about [how] we need to do the real work. The real work to address crime in this community.”

Speaking to the SF Bay Guardian after the meeting, District 3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney echoed many of Brook’s concerns. “Of course we have deal with poverty and access to education,” she said. “But that isn’t going to stop the bleeding now.” But in the end, McElhaney deferred to Jordan. “It’s about supporting the police chief who says he needs new resources to get the job done,” she said.

African American clergymen Bishop Bob Jackson, Bishop Frank Pincard and Reverend Gregory Payton voiced support for the contract. Jackson, who leads the 7,500-member Acts Full of Gospel Church in East Oakland, lamented a wave of violent crime that claimed more than 130 lives in 2012. “It’s gotten way out of control,” he said. “If Bratton can help stop the bloodshed, then I am for Bratton.”

Yet opponents of the contract expressed concern that Bratton’s support for stop-and-frisk policing would further exacerbate tensions between OPD and the community. “Stop-and-frisk will blow up in our face,” said Adam Blueford, whose teenage son Alan Blueford was fatally shot by Oakland police last May.

This clip was originally posted to Vimeo by Daniel Arauz.

George Holland, president of the Oakland branch of the NAACP, echoed these concerns, saying the NAACP opposes stop-and-frisk because “it invariably leads to racial profiling.”

In a presentation outlining the details of the $250,000 contract, Jordan stated that despite Bratton’s support for stop-and-frisk, there were no plans to implement the controversial tactic in Oakland.  “I do not support stop-and-frisk, I will not condone it, and we will practice constitutional policing,” the police chief assured the crowd.

But the practice, which was deemed unconstitutional earlier this month by a federal court ruling on its use in the Bronx in New York, is central to Bratton’s philosophy on policing. In a recent interview, Bratton told CBS San Francisco, “For any city to say they don’t do ‘stop-and-frisk’…I’m sorry, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about … Any police department in America that tries to function without some form of ‘stop-and-frisk,’ or whatever terminology they use, is doomed to failure. It’s that simple.”

Oakland to decide on controversial stop-and-frisk advocate Bill Bratton

On Tuesday, Oakland City Council will consider approving a $250,000 contract for an outside security consulting team, which could include controversial roving police chief and private security contractor William Bratton. With Oakland’s understaffed police department facing a 23 percent rise in violent crime over the past year, the Council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended last week that the full Council approve a new round of funding for Boston-based police consultant Strategic Policy Partnership LLC. The firm intends to bring on Bratton as part of a new team of private policing experts to advise OPD.

At the five-hour Public Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 15, Oakland activists crowded into the chamber to voice concerns that Bratton—a nationally known proponent of “zero tolerance” policing and New York City’s extremely controversial stop-and-frisk policy—would be tapped as a member of the consulting team. Pressure from the community prompted committee members to tack on a provision suggesting that an alternative to Bratton be considered in the final contract.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan both voiced enthusiastic support for Bratton’s appointment.  In a letter sent last Wednesday urging the Council to approve the contract, Quan wrote: “Bratton is uniquely suited to helping us perfect how that system works here.” She went on to promise that racial profiling would not be tolerated in Oakland.

Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, a former legal advisor to Quan, expressed dismay over Bratton’s possible consultancy to a lively group of protesters outside last Tuesday’s meeting. “Stop-and-frisk does not work,” he said. “Bratton is exactly what we do not need in the city of Oakland.”

Although Bratton did not attend last Tuesday’s meeting, he has publicly expressed interest in working in Oakland, despite the vocal opposition.  “I’m still very desirous of working in Oakland … I think the assistance that I can provide will be of value to the city,” Bratton told the Oakland Tribune following Wednesday’s protests.

From Boston, to Los Angeles, to New York, Bratton has implemented and championed a controversial mix of anti-crime measures, making him one of the nation’s most divisive and visible law enforcement officials. 

Lauded by supporters as America’s “Top Cop,” he has twice served as president of the influential Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which was responsible for coordinating a police response to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He also serves as vice chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Serving as police chief in New York from 1994 to 1996 and Los Angeles from 2002 to 2009, Bratton built a national reputation as an outspoken proponent of stop-and-frisk, a tactic often linked with racial profiling. According to data compiled by the New York ACLU, the procedure disproportionally targets black and Latino residents. Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court Judge in New York deemed stop-and-frisk to be unconstitutional and issued an injunction limiting the policy in the Bronx. In July, when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee suggested exploring stop-and-frisk in San Francisco, local civil liberties advocates balked.

Bratton is also an unabashed supporter of zero-tolerance policing, a method that stems from the “broken-windows theory” and encourages police to make arrests for minor infractions such as graffiti, litter, panhandling, prostitution or other petty offenses which are presumed to create an environment that breeds serious crime.

Bratton’s controversial tactics have been credited with reducing crime rates during his tenure in New York and Los Angeles. His work to diversify the LAPD and build closer ties between police and the community also drew praise from the Los Angeles chapter of the ACLU.

But in Oakland, local police reform advocates question the long-term efficacy of Bratton’s methods.

Rachel Herzing, co-director of Oakland-based Critical Resistance, an advocacy group that is part of a coalition of local organizations mobilizing against Bratton, charges that he deals in “quick fixes.” In the long run, she argues, his methods do not reduce crime but rather relocate it.

Bratton’s “all cops, no services approach does not work anywhere, and will not work in Oakland,” Herzing told the Guardian. “The aggressive sweeps Bratton is known for in New York ultimately just displace people, and drive them away from essential services. [These tactics] aren’t appropriate policing responses.”

The public outcry at last Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting drew responses from new Council members Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Dan Kalb. McElhaney, whose District 3 includes some of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods plagued with high crime rates, told colleagues that Bratton may come with “too much baggage.” Ultimately, McElhaney said, his presence in Oakland might prove to be counterproductive.

Speaking to the Guardian on Jan. 21, McElhaney said she was not yet sure if she would vote to approve the contract. “We are wrestling with some very big issues here,” she said.  “I am clearly concerned about some of Bratton’s tactics but I am also interested in his results in some of the cities he has worked in. I do know he has lowered homicide rates.”

She added that the overarching goal of addressing crime in Oakland should not be lost in the debate surrounding Bratton. “There’s the totality of the contract I’m considering… in the end, I’m more interested in the outcome as opposed to the individuals.”

In an effort to diffuse controversy at the Jan. 15 meeting, McElhaney and Kalb successfully amended the committee recommendation to urge Strategic Policy Partnership to consider potential alternatives to Bratton.

But given Bratton’s national profile and controversial approach to policing, his inclusion in the consulting contract will likely take center stage at the full Council Meeting on Tuesday. Both Bratton’s opponents and supporters plan to arrive in force at Tuesday’s Council meeting, and as of yet it’s uncertain which side will prevail.

East Bay Endorsements 2012


The East Bay ballot is crowded, with races for mayor, city council and school board in Berkeley and Oakland, plus a long list of ballot measures. We’re weighing in on what we see as the most important races.





This one’s simple: Progressives on the council like Parker, who’s a pretty unbiased attorney. Her challenger, Jane Brunner, is a supporter of Ignacio De La Fuente. Vote for Parker.







In some ways, this is a replay of the 2010 mayor’s race, where Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan, running as allies in a ranked-choice voting system, took on and beat Don Perata, the longtime powerbroker who left town soon after his defeat. This time around, it’s Kaplan, the popular incumbent, facing Ignacio De La Fuente, a Perata ally, for the one at-large council seat.

De La Fuente, who currently represents District 3, would have easily won re-election if he stuck to home. But for reasons he’s never clearly articulated, he decided to go after Kaplan. The general consensus among observers: De La Fuente wants to be mayor (he’s tried twice and failed), thinks Quan is vulnerable, and figures winning the at-large seat would give him a citywide base.

It’s a clear choice: Kaplan is one of the best elected officials in the Bay Area, a bright, progressive, practical, and hardworking council member who is full of creative ideas. De La Fuente is an old Perata Machine hack who wanted to kick out Occupy Oakland the first day, wants curfews for youth, and can’t even get his story straight on cutting the size of the Oakland Police Department.

De La Fuente is all about law and order, and he blasts Kaplan for — literally — “coddling criminals.” But actually, as the East Bay Express has reported in detail, De La Fuente, in a fit of anger at the police union, led the movement to lay off 80 cops. And the crime rate in Oakland spiked shortly afterward. Kaplan opposed that motion, and tried later to rehire many of those cops — but De La Fuente objected.

Public safety is one of the top local issues, and Kaplan not only supports community policing (and more cops) but is working on root causes, including the lack of services for people released into Oakland from state prison and county jail. She’s also a strong transit advocate who’s working on new bike lanes and a free shuttle on Broadway. She helped write the county transportation measure, B1. She richly deserves another term — and De La Fuente deserves retirement.





It would be nice to have a Berkeley person as mayor of Berkeley again.

The city’s still among the most progressive outposts in the country — and Mayor Tom Bates, for all his history as one of the leading progressive voices in the state Legislature and a key part of the city’s left-liberal political operation, has taken the city in a decidedly centrist direction. Bates these days is all about development. He’s a big supporter of the sit-lie law (hard to imagine the old Tom Bates ever supporting an anti-homeless measure). He didn’t even seek the mayoral endorsement of Berkeley Citizens Action, which he helped build, and instead hypes the Berkeley Democratic Club, which he used to fight. After ten years, we’re ready for a new Berkeley mayor.

Worthington is the voice of the left on the City Council. He’s an aggressive legislator who is never short of ideas. He’s talking about the basics (holding separate council meetings on major issues so people who want to speak don’t have to wait until midnight), to the visionary (a 21-point plan for revitalizing Telegraph Avenue). He’s against sit-lie and wants developers to offer credible community benefits agreements before they build. We’re with Worthington.

Alameda County ballot measures







The Oakland Zoo does wonders with rescue animals; instead of bringing in creatures from the wild or from other zoos, the folks in Oakland often find ways to take in animals that have been abused or mistreated elsewhere. Measure A1 would impose a tiny ($12 a year) parcel tax to support the public zoo. Critics say the money could go for zoo expansion, but the expansion’s happening anyway. Vote yes.







Quite possibly the most important thing on the East Bay ballot, Measure B1 creates the funding for a long-term transportation plan. Almost half of the money goes for public transit and only 30 percent goes for streets and road. There’s more bicycle money than in any previous transportation plan. Every city in Alameda County supports it. Vote yes.

Berkeley ballot measures







Not our first choice for a street improvement bond, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge that squeaked through a divided council. But the city’s deferred street maintenance is a major problem and this $30 million bond would be a modest step forward.







Berkeley has lost half its public pools in the past two years; the facilities are unusable, and it’s going to take about $20 million to refurbish and rebuild them. This bond measure would allow the city to re-open the Willard Pool and build a new Warm Water Pool — critical for seniors and people rehabbing from injuries. Vote Yes.







Berkeley often does things right, and this is a perfect example: Instead of building new facilities that it can’t afford to operate (hell, SF Recreation and Parks Department), Berkeley is asking for two things from the voters: Bond money to rebuild the municipal pools, and a special tax to provide $600,000 a year for operations. We support both.







Measure P doesn’t raise anyone’s taxes. It’s just a housekeeping measure, mandated by state law, allowing the city to keep spending taxes that were approved years ago for parks, libraries, medical services, services for the disabled, and fire services. Vote yes.







Berkeley’s been collecting utility taxes on cell phones for some time now, but the law that allows it is based on federal language that has changed. So the city needs to make this modest change to continue collecting its existing tax.







The council districts in Berkeley were set when the city adopted district elections in 1986, with a charter amendment saying all future redistricting should conform as closely as possible to the 1986 lines. Nice idea, but the population has changed and it makes sense for the council to have more flexibility with redistricting.







It’s hard to believe that progressive Berkeley, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending similar laws in court, wants to criminalize sitting on the sidewalk. It hasn’t worked in San Francisco, it won’t work in Berkeley. Vote no.







Council Members Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin, and Max Anderson all oppose this plan, which would open up West Berkeley to more office development — with no guarantee of community benefits. Everyone agrees the area needs updated zoning, but this is too loose.







Berkeley has needed a strong sunshine law for years; this one isn’t the greatest, but it’s not the worst, either; it would mandate better agendas (and allow citizens to petition for items to be put on the agenda) for city boards and commissions, would create a new sunshine commission with the ability to sue the city to enforce the law, and would require elected and appointed officials to make public their appointments calendars.







This sounds like a great idea — mandate that the city present certified financial audits of its obligations before issuing any more debt. In practice, it’s a way to make it harder for Berkeley to raise taxes or issue bonds. Vote no.

Oakland ballot measures







Measure J would authorize $475 million in bonds for upgrading school facilities. This one’s a no-brainer; vote yes.


Survivor recounts life of rape and abuse by Your Black Muslim Bakery leader


Editor’s Note: This story is part of the Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaboration of Bay Area media outlets (including the Guardian) to investigate Bailey’s murder by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery.

By Louise Rafkin, Center for Investigative Reporting

 In 2002, five years before journalist Chauncey Bailey was murdered by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery, a woman identified only as Jane Doe 1 stepped forward to report decades of sexual abuse, welfare fraud and violence by the bakery’s leader, Yusuf Bey Sr.

She was prepared to hand over to Oakland police DNA from three of her children evidence that Bey had impregnated her, the first time when she was 12 years old.

Given the history of violence by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery, this was a risky move. But the woman was fueled by a mother’s anger. Her daughter, then 18, alerted her that Bey was trying to abuse her – his own daughter.

Now a devout Christian, Jane Doe 1 has decided she no longer wants to be the nameless whistle-blower. Her name is Kowana Banks and, in her first public interview, she said she made the decision to come forward to help other children trapped in similar situations. She hopes to publish a book about her experiences.

“Abused people go one of two ways: Either they are going to self-destruct or they’re going to make a difference,” said Banks, 44. “I’m going to make a difference.”

The violent saga of Your Black Muslim Bakery is fading into Oakland history, but wounds remain among Bey’s victims and family members today marks the fifth anniversary of the murder of Bailey, the Oakland Post editor who had been investigating the bakery’s finances.

The facts behind Banks’ story have been outlined in court proceedings and depositions, but her decision to come forward allows her to detail her unique insider’s perspective as a victim and survivor.

Today, Banks is an optimistic, composed woman who has moved on as best she can. One of her three children by Bey, Yusuf V, 25, is in San Quentin State Prison for his part in the 2007 kidnapping of two Oakland women, one who was tortured, a crime related to the bakery’s demise. The other two are doing well.

Banks considers the three to be the “blessing out of what happened to me.”

Married for 18 years to a man she met after leaving the bakery, Banks says the bitterness and anger that grew from her childhood abuse dissolved when she fell in love. The couple have two children together.

“But it’s difficult to look back and know I was just a child then and that no one cared,” she said.

Throughout her childhood at the bakery, Banks said she felt abandoned by the social welfare system, invisible even to those at local hospitals where she – and many other underage girls at the bakery compound – gave birth to multiple children while still children themselves.

She delivered the first of three children by Bey at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley at 13. A social worker questioned Banks about the paternity of her son, she said, but under the watchful eye of one of Bey’s “wives,” Banks kept silent. Later, she said she told a child protection worker that she was working long hours and not going to school.

“She told me she would check into it, and I never saw her again,” Banks said.

Bey, a self-appointed minister who gave himself the title of “Dr.,” was formerly a hairdresser. He opened Your Black Muslim Bakery in the late 1970s, espousing black self-reliance and his own interpretation of Islam, which included racist attacks on whites. Nevertheless, in his more than 30 years in North Oakland, Bey gained the support of local business leaders, clergy and politicians eager to align with the underclass.

In 2003, Bey died before facing trial, setting off the struggle for power and control that escalated into mayhem and multiple murders. Banks said she saw the violence coming.

“You cut off the head,” Banks said, “and the body will go crazy.”

Molestations began at age 8

Banks, who was born in the East Bay, said her father was a drug addict who met Bey’s followers while doing jail time for drug-related crimes. Banks can’t remember her mother, who she said abandoned her as a toddler, along with a younger brother and older sister.

In 1976, Banks’ father brought the children to live at the bakery compound, where he’d gotten a job. A hive of single-family homes, retail storefronts and apartments clustered on the corner of San Pablo Avenue and 59th Street in North Oakland, the compound housed bakery workers and Bey’s sprawling family of children and women he called his wives.

One Sunday night in 1976, Bey invited Banks to spend the night in his apartment, telling her she could play with his baby daughter. Banks was nervous and thought it strange to spend time with Bey, then 41. But her older sister had spent the night there and returned toting candy and new clothes. She said that night marked the first time Bey molested her. She was 8.

Bey told her to tell no one, she said. If she did, she would be killed.

“But he didn’t stop with me,” she said. “He told me he’d murder my whole family, everyone.”

Banks believes her father did not know about the incident, but the family moved away soon after that first molestation. They lived in Hayward for a while, and later, Banks’ father left her and her siblings with a grandmother near Monterey.

In 1978, after another arrest, her father brought them back to the bakery and left them with Bey.

Not long after, Banks said, Bey came into her bedroom above the bakery while she was sleeping, and raped her. She was 10 and remembers wearing one-piece pink zip-up pajamas. After the assault, she sought help from Nora Bey, then 23, one of the minister’s many “wives.” Banks’ father had surrendered his paternal rights so Yusuf Bey could receive welfare for their care; the court appointed Nora Bey, later known as Esperanza Johnson, as their legal guardian.

“ ‘I need you to help me because he’s trying to do things to me,’ ” Banks recalls telling Nora Bey. “And her comment was, ‘Oh, girl, he’s not going to do anything to you that he hasn’t done to anyone else.’ ”

Living in various bakery-owned homes, Banks was kept out of public school. She was smart, though, and soon became an integral part of the bakery, which sold pies and sandwiches from its San Pablo Avenue storefront. She learned bookkeeping and taught basic math and reading at the bakery’s school. Her life was regimented; she baked from 4 to 8 a.m., taught in the bakery’s combined school and day care until 6 p.m., and then wrapped bakery products until 10 p.m.

It was not until several years later that Banks even received a wage, just $25 per week.

At the time, Banks remembers not understanding why those living in the compound all were so isolated from outsiders, why they were punished for sneaking out once to see a movie, “The Wiz.”

“But as an adult, I understand now,” she said, “because he had secrets, and he didn’t want those secrets to get out.”

Learning Bey’s doctrine

In the bakery’s school, Yusuf Bey’s doctrine was drilled into the children. Girls were taught to cover their heads; everyone was addressed as “brother” or “sister.” Bey preached the superiority of men over women and of blacks over whites. Whites, he said, were “the devil” and responsible for all the world’s problems.

“The men were the ceiling, and women were the floor,” Banks said, quoting Bey.

She, however, was hardly subservient, growing into a feisty and hardheaded young woman, often chastised for speaking out against unfair treatment.

“I was known for saying whatever was on my brain,” Banks said.

Once when Banks complained about the long hours of work, she said she was forced to get up even earlier. When one of the other women found Bey with Banks in his bedroom late at night, the woman’s questions were silenced with a beating. Banks was then given a beating herself.

Banks said Bey tried to turn others against her and, because her mother was white, called her “nobody but the devil.”

But he continued to rape her repeatedly. At 13, she gave birth to the first of the three children she would have with Bey.

All the while, Banks said, Bey received – and kept for himself – welfare payments and food stamps intended for Banks, her siblings, others and eventually the children born as a result of the rapes. Bey was said to have more than 40 children and called up to 100 women his wives.

The atmosphere of fear was total, Banks said. In 1986, a young man, Peter Kaufman, who’d spoken out about having seen Bey rape a boy in the bakery’s bathroom, turned up dead on a nearby side street, shot in the head. Beatings – for both women and men in the bakery community – were commonplace.

Bey, Banks said, was a persuasive man who used intimidation, violence and a flashy lifestyle to control his mostly down-and-out followers, many of whom were parolees. There were cameras in the bakery and microphones in every room to monitor conversations. Among the women, the abuse was ubiquitous and unspoken. It was some time before Banks realized that Bey was molesting her sister, too.

Banks said she was instructed by Nora Bey not to identify him as the father of her children on their birth certificates. And Banks wasn’t allowed to choose names for her kids. Particularly painful to Banks was that her second son was named Yusuf by Nora Bey.

Banks said she had nowhere to turn. She blames racism, fear and a hands-off attitude for the lack of oversight by welfare officials and police.

“They were fed Brother Bey’s line that he was doing a lot for the black community,” she said. “No one wanted to intervene.”

Escape from bakery life

For years, Banks dreamed of leaving. But under the constant threat of violence, she waited. She planned to leave at 18, but was again pregnant. In 1988, then 20, she became romantically interested in a man her own age she met at the bakery. Bey caught wind of this and held a meeting at which he directed his other women to teach Banks a lesson by beating her.

Warned of her impending punishment, Banks made her escape that night, Aug. 28, 1988. A cousin on her father’s side agreed to pick her up. As she was collecting her children, Bey confronted her and threw her belongings at her.

“I picked up as much as I could that he threw at me and packed it into the car,” said Banks, laughing at the memory. “I don’t think he realized he was helping me.”

At first, she “felt so free” in a world outside the bakery, but soon she began to live in fear that Bey would send someone to harm her.

“My fear was a stranger that I didn’t even know would walk up to me and do something, because of course they had pictures of me,” she said.

Moving forward with her life was difficult, and keeping hold of the children she had with Bey ultimately proved too much of a challenge. Banks found work at restaurants as a server, but money was always tight. Bey wouldn’t pay child support, and the welfare she received never seemed to be enough.

“I was just a child when my kids were born,” she said. “It would be different if today I was having children, or even 20 years ago.”

Soon, Bey, exerting his power, sent for the kids, and they returned to the bakery. The boys spent most of their childhood there. Banks said her daughter, despite spending some time at the bakery and with foster families, mainly grew up with her.

At the bakery, Bey tried to turn her kids against her, Banks said, telling them she wanted them only for their welfare checks. While still a child, her oldest asked why she didn’t live with them at the bakery, like the parents of the other kids. Banks explained to him that “it wasn’t a good place” for her.

“I felt it was a better environment for men than it was for women,” she said, noting that at the time, she assumed Bey would not molest his own children.

In 1989, she met her husband through an acquaintance. The couple had their two children in the ’90s.

More than a decade passed. Banks took community college classes, found work in restaurants, earned her GED diploma and occasionally visited her boys at the bakery. There was constant intimidation; she feared retribution for leaving and was always looking over her shoulder.

Concern for daughter prompts action

Banks never told her kids about her abuse. It was hard to watch her boys be lured in by Bey’s flashy lifestyle – a Mercedes or Cadillac was always parked curbside – but Banks held out hope that she had been right, that it really was a better place for boys than it was for girls.

In June 2002, her 18-year-old daughter, who was working at the bakery but living elsewhere, told Banks a story that suggested Bey had tried to molest her. Banks was devastated, unable to even ask her daughter for details.

“I prayed, asking God who was going to stop him,” said Banks, then 34. “And then, suddenly, I knew it was me.”

With DNA testing available, she could prove Bey’s paternity. It offered the proof she had always hoped to find. In an angry phone conversation with Bey, she told him her plan.

“You, sir, are a rapist and a child molester, and let me tell you what I’m going to do to you,” she recalls saying. “First, I’m going to go to the police, and I’m going to press charges against you, and then, when I’m done, I’m going to sue you and I’m going to take all your money. And then I won’t have to ask you to help your children, my children, with anything else, because I’m going to have all your money.”

Bey, she said, told her she’d soon be “floating in a river.”

To show Bey her determination, she called him again from a phone at the Oakland Police Department. “He knew from that day forth that it was over for him,” she said.

Three months later, Bey was taken into police custody. With DNA test results in hand, Banks pressed felony criminal charges of rape and assault. Bey posted bail, but died in the hospital a year later before facing the criminal trial.

Banks was disappointed that Bey never faced a trial but took pleasure in knowing that he had at least faced the charges.

“He lived a long life of getting away with it,” she said. “By the grace of Jesus, I know he’s boiling in hell.”

Another Jane Doe revealed

Along with two other women, Banks also filed a civil suit, alleging that Alameda County did nothing to protect them. The county eventually settled with Banks and the two other Jane Does, admitting no liability.

Another of the Jane Does in the suits, a former foster child who worked at the bakery between 1994 and 1996 and was raped by Bey, also has decided to publicly identify herself for the first time.

Malikha Hardy said she reported her abuse on three occasions to a county social worker, to a guidance counselor at juvenile hall and, in 1996, to the Oakland police. No one followed up until seven years later, she said, when an Oakland detective working on Banks’ case turned up at her door.

“The people feared Bey,” Hardy, now 32, said in a recent phone interview. “He had people who would do anything for him.”

To protect the two women, California Watch is not providing information about their current whereabouts or employment. During multiple interviews for this story, a family therapist was present to provide support.

Having wrestled with low self-worth, nightmares, and other aftereffects of childhood trauma, Banks is writing a book about her life with the therapist’s help. She credits her conversion to Christianity with making it possible for her to smile again.

“I’m resilient, and I’m positive,” Banks said. “I say, ‘If people are preying on you, God has chosen you.’ ”

Banks remains in contact with her son Yusuf V, who is imprisoned at San Quentin and serving a 10-year sentence as part of a plea agreement in the kidnapping incident.

“I’m trying to reform my son’s way of thinking,” Banks said. “Him sitting in one spot is the best time for me to do it, because his mind is open.”

During a recent visit to the former bakery compound, Banks said she thinks the reign of terror is now over. Many of the buildings have been sold or renovated; little is left to indicate what went on, outside or inside. The old bakery is a beauty supply store. The former school is a martial arts studio.

As Banks walked through memorable rooms and haunted hallways, she recounted stories both benign and horrific.

“I’ve seen stuff here,” she said, “that will scare me for the rest of my life.

This story was edited by Robert Salladay and Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick and Christine Lee.


This story was produced by the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the Chauncey Bailey Project. For more, visit www.cironline.org and www.chaunceybaileyproject.org. Rafkin can be contacted at Louise.Rafkin@gmail.com.


Oakland families protest Oakland School Police killings and school closures


The Oakland School Police Department was the target of a protest today, as more than 100 marched to the department’s headquarters. The small department is devoted to patrolling and policing Oakland public schools. 

The protest group converged at the Oakland Police Department headquarters at 7th and Broadway, and several family members of young people killed by police officers spoke. 

Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District Tony Smith sent Oakland School Police officers to shut down a sit-in and free school at Lakeview Elementary school July 3. Protesters say officer Barhin Bhatt, who issued the dispersal order at the Lakeview sit-in, should not be working in the schools; he is one of two Oakland School police involved in the killing 20-year-old student Raheim Brown last year.

“They’re no better than anyone else who’s out on the street, killing people,” Brown’s mother, Lori Davis, said at the rally. 

Brown was in a car with a friend, Tamisha Stewart, when he was shot to death. He was shot in the head and chest. Stewart, the only civilian witness, was beaten and jailed for a week.

Police say the car was stolen and that Brown tried to stab one of the officers with a screwdriver. 

Stewart recounted her experiences at the rally. “Seeing my friend get killed for no reason, and calling for help and me not being able to do anything. Being beaten, eyes swollen shut, for no reason. I’m living with the memory every day,” she said. “We need more people to come and stand with us, because we can’t do it alone.  We have single parents, mothers without children, fathers, brothers without their brothers and sisters.”

Brown’s young son and his mother were also present at the protest.

“Of course people make mistakes. And Raheim made mistakes, ” another protester, Jabari Shaw, said through a megaphone. “But what happened to him was police terrorism. What happened to him was murder.”

The group marched to the Oakland School Police headquarters at the former Cole Middle School in West Oakland. On the march, protesters chanted “justice for Raheim Brown” and carried banners that read “jail killer cops” and “stop school closures.”

At the Oakland School Police department headquarters, the group continued to rally. One protester, Jeremy Miller, expressed anger that Cole Middle School had been closed and the building turned into a police station. Earlier this month, the school district closed five elementary schools in order to save about $2 million.

“They don’t have enough money to keep schools open, but they have the money to police our schools,” Miller said. “We know that our children are safer with no police in their schools.”

Another speaker noted that Cole Middle School had an innovative restorative justice program in place, an alternative to zero-tolerance policies. The program cut down on suspensions by 87 percent.

“I feel like the police shutting down a school that had a model restorative justice program is a slap in our faces,”  she said. “This was such a wonderful program, and it could have been copied and duplicated and modeled all across our city”

Sgt. Bhatt was appointed interim chief of the Oakland School Police Department in August after the previous chief Pete Sarna resigned. Sarna had been accused of making racially disparaging remarks about other police officers while drunk after a golf tournament.

Bhatt has been acquitted of wrongdoing by Alameda County prosecutors. But now Brown’s death, as well as Sarna’s racist remarks, are the subject of a federal grand jury investigation of the Oakland School Police Department. The department received a letter from the FBI May 17 announcing that they as well would be looking into the police force.

“I’m so grateful that the federal grand jury got involved,” Davis said at the rally. She told of dealing with the Oakland Police Department the morning after her son’s death. 

“I called down to OPD to find out what happened,” Davis said. “They gave me the runaround. They didn’t want to tell me. And then when they finally did say something, they said that the police killed my son. I was in shock. And they said, oh no, it’s not OPD, it’s not us. It was the school police. That’s not our department, we’re two separate divisions.”  

Davis said that she had been denied victim compensation and other services usually offered to families of crime victims since her son’s death had been caused by a police officer. A community effort was launched to raise funds for Brown’s burial. But Davis hopes that the government will bring her family some justice.

“I’m praying that the federal grand jury,” along with, Davis said, her attorney John Burris, “will get justice for little Raheim.”

Sit-in at Lakeview elementary raided, free classes continue, rally at 5pm


This post has been updated

A sit-in at Oakland’s Lakeview Elementary School ended early this morning as police from the Oakland School Police force entered the school building, making two arrests.

The dispersal was calm by all accounts, although protesters say that officers threatened to use chemical weapons to disperse the crowd, which included young children.

Officers from the Oakland School Police force, the Oakland Housing Authority Police force, Oakland Police Department, and California Highway Patrol were deployed to end the protest, according to a statement from OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith.

“There were children there, parents and teachers and a few occupiers,” said Lola, an organizer with Occupy Oakland who was supporting the sit-in on 4am security duty when police arrived.

There were 20-25 sit-in participants present when police arrived, according to Lola and another Occupy Oakland participant who was on the scene, Alyssa Eisenberg. “There were at least 15 police cars when I drove up,” Eisenberg said.

“The officers were saying, we’ve given you notices now we’re going to give you 15 minutes to leave. Then they gave an official dispersal order and they said, ‘If you do not disperse we’ll use chemical agents against you,’” Lola recounts.

Oakland parents, teachers, elementary school-aged children and supporters had been demonstrating at the school for 17 days. The school is one of five marked for closure by the Oakland School Board, a move that parents and teachers opposed.

The demonstration consisted of a free day camp for children called the People’s School for Public Education, a community garden, and a 24-hour sit-in involving half a dozen tents on the school property.

As protesters left the school, “it was very calm,” Lola said. “All the people that were there left willingly except two,” a parent organizer and an alum of the school who sat in a classroom rather than leave when police arrived. The two were cited for trespassing and released.

Police then erected a new fence outside the public school, and demonstrators went to a park across the street with the goal of continuing to teach free classes to children.

“Officers wouldn’t let [National Lawyers Guild] legal observers or journalists into the building,” said Lola, describing these observers standing on concrete structures outside the gates of the school in order to see what happened.

Organizers have planned a rally in protest of the raid and the ongoing school closures. They plan to meet today at 5pm outside of Lakeview Elementary.

“People who were occupying said this isn’t the end, they have more direct action civil disobedience plans,” Lola said.

Only real change can avert more conflict


This week’s May Day events brought together immigrant groups, labor unions, and activists with the Occupy movement to confront gross inequities in our economic and political systems. That’s a healthy democratic exercise, even if it sometimes provokes tense standoffs with police and property interests. But the day was marred by violence that didn’t need to happen, and that’s a dangerous situation that could only get worse.

The Oakland Police Department debuted new crowd control policies to manage marches of several thousand people, and there were some improvements over its previous “military-type responses” that have placed the OPD under the oversight of federal courts. For example, when the decision was made to clear Frank Ogawa Plaza around 8:30 p.m., police allowed escape routes (instead of using dangerous kettle-and-arrest tactics), clearly visible public information officers were available to answer questions, and people were allowed to return shortly thereafter.

“We’re not attempting to permanently clear the plaza, we just want things to settle down,” OPD spokesperson Robyn Clark told me at the scene.

But the OPD continues to provoke conflicts and mistrust with its confrontational tactics, even as it argues that such tactics are actually intended to improve its approach to handling large demonstrations. “Today’s strategy focused on swiftly addressing any criminal behavior that would damage property or jeopardize public or officer safety. Officers were able to identify specific individuals in the crowd committing unlawful acts and quickly arrest them so the demonstration could continue peacefully,” OPD wrote in press release late Tuesday night.

That sounds nice, but it’s only partially true, and the entire situation is a lot more complicated and volatile than that. Clark and witnesses told me at the scene that the dispersal order came after police charged into a crowd of several hundred, perhaps more than 1,000, to arrest someone with a stay-away order and were met with an angry reaction from the crowd.

What did they expect? The city decided to seek stay-away orders against many Occupy Oakland protesters – a barely constitutional act that only fans divisions between the city and protesters – and then to execute them at a time when elements of both sides were itching for a fight anyway. Perceptions become reality in a scene like that, which can quickly escalate out of control (which is what happened – almost all the property damage in Oakland occurred after the plaza was cleared by police).

“These pigs can’t wait to come in here and bust us up,” speaker Robbie Donohoe told the crowd shortly before the sound permit ended at 8 pm, warning people to leave soon is they didn’t want to assume the risk of a violent confrontation with police.

It wasn’t an unreasonable expectation after watching police decked out in riot gear, loaded down with tear gas canisters, and gathered around an armored vehicle with military-style LRAD sound weapon since mid-afternoon. Donohoe wasn’t advocating violence, but an important revolutionary and constitutional principle: the right to assemble and seek redress of our grievances.

“They didn’t have a permit in Egypt, they didn’t have a permit in Tunisia, and we don’t need a permit here! If you want to stay, you stay!” he said.

Many Americans share that viewpoint, and they’re frustrated that political corruption and economic exploitation have continued unabated since the Occupy Wall Street movement began almost eight months ago. And many young people – particularly the Black Bloc kids who show up with shields and weapons, ready to fight – are prepared to take those frustrations out in aggressive ways, as we saw Monday night during their rampage through the Mission District.

Witnesses and victims of that car- and storefront-smashing spree are understandably frustrated both with the perpetrators and the San Francisco Police Department, whose officers watched it happen and did nothing to stop it or apprehend those who did it. SFPD spokesperson Daryl Fong told us it just happened too quickly, with less than 20 officers on hand to deal with more than 150 vandals.

“Obviously, you have people with hammers, crowbars, and pipes engaged in this kind of act, with the number of officers involved, it was challenging and difficult to control,” he told us.

In both Oakland and San Francisco, the reasons for the escalation of violence were the same: police officer safety. That’s why OPD asserts the right to use overwhelming force against even the slightest provocation, and it’s why the SFPD says they could do nothing even when the Mission Police Station came under attack.

Now, I’m not going to second-guess these decisions by police, even though we should theoretically have more control over their actions than any of us do those of angry Black Bloc kids, although I do think both of these sides are looking for trouble and invested in the paradigm of violent conflict.

Rather, I think it’s time for our elected leaders, from Mayor Ed Lee to President Barack Obama, to stop giving lip service to supporting the goals and ideals of the Occupy movement and start taking concrete actions that will benefit the 99 percent and diffuse some of these tensions. This is dangerous game we’re all planning, and we’re teetering on the edge of real chaos that will be difficult to reel back in once it begins.

“We are not criminals. We are workers, we pay rent, we own homes,” Alicia Stanio, an immigrant and labor organizer for the Pacific Steel Casting Company, told a crowd of thousands that had gathered in San Antonio Park in Oakland, where three marches converged on their way to City Hall, carefully monitored by a phalanx of cops.

She and thousands like her didn’t march or speak or risk violence on May Day just because they like being in the streets. They’re desperate for change, real change, and it’s time that our leaders begin to deliver it before things really get out of hand in this country.


Shawn Gaynor contributed to this report.

Who bombed Judi Bari?


THE GREEN ISSUE Darryl Cherney is determined. “I have a mission in life,” he says. “And that is to find out who bombed Judi Bari.” This week, a judge may have gotten him closer to that goal, ordering evidence in the case be sent to a lab for forensic testing.

Cherney was in the car with Bari, a fellow environmental activist from Earth First, when a pipe bomb wrapped with nails exploded, maiming Bari and leaving Cherney with serious injuries.

It was 1990, and the two were in Oakland on their way to speak about the upcoming Redwood Summer, three months of picketing, tree-sitting, and otherwise blocking the clear-cutting of the California redwoods.

The Redwood Summer went on, but not before Bari and Cherney were arrested: The Oakland Police Department said they had constructed the bomb themselves and were transporting it in the back seat.

Before Bari and Cherney went to trial, it became clear that the bomb had been under the front seat (Exhibit A: Bari’s shattered pelvis and the unscathed backseat), and that there was absolutely no evidence Bari or Cherney had known it was there, and the charges were dropped. But the true culprit was never found.

In 2002, Cherney sued the FBI for attempting to frame him and Bari (who died of breast cancer in 1997), and won. But he’s still set on testing the remaining evidence for DNA.

“We rely on the government to examine physical evidence in a violent criminal case, and when they fail to do that, we have to react,” Ben Rosenfeld, Cherney’s attorney, told the Guardian.

“It should be an open attempted-murder investigation.”

But the authorities not only weren’t investigating, they were seeking to destroy the evidence, something Cherney and his lawyers have been fighting. On April 2, they scored an important victory when U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilkens issued an order preserving the material and allowing its transfer to a Hayward forensic lab for testing.

In August 2010, government lawyers had unceremoniously announced that they planned to destroy the case’s remaining evidence, which includes remnants of this bomb and another one that partially exploded in Cloverdale two weeks earlier, as well as a hand-lettered sign that was near the Cloverdale bomb. The Cloverdale bomb and the bomb that exploded in Bari’s car were constructed similarly, and no one has been convicted of either attack. Because they contain unintentionally intact evidence, partially exploded bombs are “considered to be the Holy Grail in bombing investigations. That slightly exploded bomb in Cloverdale is key to solving the case,” said Cherney. Lawyers for Cherney responded with a motion calling instead for testing of the evidence; the government opposed the motion.

But at a Sept. 8, 2010 hearing, Magistrate Judge James Larson ordered the FBI to turn the evidence over to an independent analyst for testing.

Again, the feds opposed the order, and asked for a de novo review of the case, essentially asking that the court go over all previous briefings once again. The motion seemed like a stalling tactic, and it worked; the motion was pending in court for a year.

Recently, it was brought back up again, when the plaintiff’s motioned to move forward with testing the evidence. They suggested a lab in Hayward, Forensic Analytics Laboratories, and Wilkens agreed on April 2.

Bari’s case came out at the start of what became a large-scale FBI crackdown on environmental justice movements in the 1990s and throughout the 2000s. Activists protesting companies that they thought were harmful towards animals and the earth became a special target of the FBI in what became known as the “Green Scare.”

The era was characterized by crackdowns on the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, although it also affected groups like Food Not Bombs and Earth First.

“The case was an early forerunner of what we call the Green Scare cases, where the government sets out to make examples of people it perceives as leaders to try to chill activism in the environmental movement,” said Rosenfeld. “It was quite a scary season for environmental activists.”

The Green Scare did a lot to quell environmental activism, and some who were arrested at its peak remain in prison. But it didn’t stop many — including Bari and Cherney — from continuing their work.

“Both Judi and I continued right out of jail. Actually, in jail the police wrote in their police report that I was trying to convert them to environmentalism,” laughed Cherney.

“I participated in Redwood Summer and the Headwater Forest Campaign right through 1999 and continued through 2003. And now I’m making a movie about it.”

The movie, Who Bombed Judi Bari? has been doing well since it had its world premiere at the SF Green Film Festival March 2.

The film’s reception is “definitely very gratifying,” says Mary Liz Thomson, the film’s director, who “spent a lot of time editing it living in a cabin on [Cherney’s] land up in the woods, using solar power.”

Now she’s touring California with sold-out screenings, as well as some free screenings, including a well-attended March 26 screening at Occupy Oakland.

Thomson says she has gotten positive feedback from occupiers and others currently working in social movements.

“We’re just at the beginning of our launch and people are saying that it’s really relevant right now. The timing was great”

Indeed, laws that build on the Green Scare have been rapidly passed in recent months, targeting other political groups.

Controversy flared after President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the U.S. to detain suspects without charge. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that the government can kill its own citizens abroad without trial. And on Feb. 27, The House of Representatives voted in favor of HR 347, the so-called “Anti-Occupy Bill.”

Who Bombed Judi Bari? is an important history lesson for those faced with these new challenges. And Cherney may finally be on track to finding out the answer to the title’s question.