Mayor Jean Quan was vilified once again last week, this time for her candid comments about the difficulty of keeping Occupy protesters from shutting down the Port of Oakland again. Quan told the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that she doubts that the Oakland Police Department can stop future port blockades, and that doing so would require at least five hundred cops. Quan also suggested that the port should have to pay for such expenses.
Quan was quickly criticized by Chronicle columnist Andrew Ross and the Oakland Tribune's editorial board, who contended that her comments would invite future attempts to shut down the port. The criticism seemed to suggest that the mayor should've kept her comments to herself. But Quan was right — stopping thousands of peaceful Occupy protesters from blockading the port may be impossible. And more to the point: It's a bad idea.
Quan's critics seem to forget that the Oakland Police Department has a miserable record for dealing with large political demonstrations and that ordering the department to do whatever it can to block future protests is an invitation to disaster. Just last week, Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana were forced to appoint an independent panel to investigate alleged police misconduct in responding to Occupy protests on October 26 and November 2 and 3. For those who have forgotten, Oakland police fired tear gas and other less-than-lethal weapons at protesters, injuring two military veterans and a videographer in what appear to have been unnecessary assaults.
The incidents also could end up costing the city millions in litigation — far more than the estimated $2.4 million it has cost the city so far to deal with Occupy. As the Express reported last week, OPD's problems appear to be systemic. The department has a history of assigning officers with troubling records of violence to the frontlines during mass protests.
Indeed, four members of the Oakland City Council were smart last week to block an ill-advised proposal to order Santana and OPD to use any legal means necessary to stop future port blockades. The proposed measure, pushed by Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Libby Schaaf, was reckless; it was invitation for more unnecessary violence between police and protesters. Councilwomen Jane Brunner, Rebecca Kaplan, Pat Kernighan, and Nancy Nadel made the right move when they voted to send the proposal to committee for more study.
Quan also was right to suggest that the port should foot the bill for police if it wants to stop future blockades. The Port of Oakland is a public agency that earns hundreds of millions in revenue each year and yet shares almost none of it with the City of Oakland. And yet the port now wants the cash-strapped city to cover all of the costs of dealing with protesters.
The mayor's critics also act as if the Occupy protests are completely illegitimate and that it goes without saying that police must halt them. But the truth is that many people disagree. A substantial number of citizens view the port blockades as legitimate forms of protest. The port, which is owned by the public, represents an important conduit for Big Business, and demonstrators at the port are attempting to spotlight that fact.
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