The Anti Police-Terror Project and the Community Ready Corps have filed a proposed class action seeking a temporary restraining order, damages and injunctive relief after the City of Oakland’s police department deployed “violent crowd control tactics” against those peacefully protesting the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others.
Filed against the city, its interim police chief, a sergeant and two officers, the 19-page lawsuit alleges the Oakland Police Department (OPD) knowingly placed demonstrators in physical danger over the course of several days by indiscriminately using “constitutionally unlawful” tactics and excessive force. The case claims the tactics utilized by the OPD starting on May 29 included indiscriminate kettling, propulsion oftear gasand flash bangs into crowds and at individuals, and the shooting of projectiles at demonstrators.
According to the case, demonstrators targeted with tear gas were forced to remove masks worn to protect against the spread of coronavirus. Many demonstrators began coughing in reaction to the chemical irritant and were therefore “involuntarily made more vulnerable and susceptible to COVID-19 infections,” the suit says. Additionally, the lawsuit argues the OPD knowingly stoked a public health danger by forcing demonstrators to break social distancing rules in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These demonstrators included many young Black and Brown people,” the complaint reads, alleging the OPD unjustifiably declared the peaceful protests “unlawful assemblies” in order to excuse theircrowd controltactics. According to the suit, the OPD additionally targetedjournalistsand others recording its conduct, as well as medics looking to aid those harmed.
On June 1, 2020, the Alameda County Sheriff implemented an 8 p.m. curfew set to begin that evening while roughly 15,000 students and residents peacefully marched and gathered in Oakland. The lawsuit alleges the OPD falsely claimed the demonstrators were inciting violence, including by throwing Molotov cocktails, assaulting police, and destroying property, to “justify their use of force and to discourage participation by the public.”
“No evidence exists to support this,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit claims the OPD began using tear gas, flashbangs and rubber bullets against demonstrators confined by kettling before the curfew went into effect. Many were shot in the back as they fled the OPD, the complaint says, only to be impeded by the defendants’ kettling measures.
Some demonstrators who were arrested by the OPD for violating the curfew had their wrists clasped with zip ties instead of handcuffs, the case says, adding that a number of protestors attempted to comply with the county’s measure but were “trapped by OPD.”
Cited in the complaint is asettlementnegotiated in March 2003 that placed the OPD under the U.S. District Court’s supervision until a series of changes were implemented to prevent the use of excessive force by police officers and hold individuals accountable for violating citizens’ rights. The lawsuit says that more than 17 years later, the court’s supervision continues because “Oakland has failed to implement and sustain the required changes.”
Prior to the suit’s filing, Oakland Interim Police Chief Susan E. Manheimer stated in anopen letterto the community that the department knows it needs to rebuild trust and recognizes the importance of doing so “in this period of unrest while the nation focuses on police brutality.”
“We are evaluating the principles and policies proposed by various groups and organizations calling for changes in police practices,” Manheimer wrote. “We have some of these practices in place now and commit to reviewing more of these proposals.
According to CBS SF BayArea, the Oakland police say they provided ample warning prior to the 8 p.m. curfew, claiming anyone who remained behind were “part of an organized group of agitators, looters and vandals.”
The lawsuit looks to cover all demonstrators who participated and/or intend to participate in the protests that began on May 29, 2020 in Oakland, California.
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