Police breaking their own rules in declaring unlawful assembly against Occupy Oakland

  • Published on November 4th, 2011

Last Tuesday, the Oakland Police declared Occupy Oakland to be an unlawful assembly. After that, they moved in with tear gas, concussion grenades (aka flashbangs), and rubber bullets. There were arrests and injuries, including Marine veteran Scott Olson, who ended up in hospital with a concussion.

There’s just one problem: They violated their own rules. They should never have declared that gathering an unlawful assembly in the first place.

Thanks to Volgyi2000 on Reddit for posting the Oakland Police Department’s Crowd Control and Management Policy. The following is copied directly from Page 11 of that policy, which was drafted for them as part of a consent agreement with the Justice Department.

  1. The definition of an unlawful assembly has been set forth in Penal Code Section 407 and interpreted by court decisions. The terms, “boisterous” and “tumultuous,” as written in Penal Code Section 407, have been interpreted as “conduct that poses a clear and present danger of imminent violence” or when the demonstration or crowd event is for the purpose of committing a criminal act. The police may not disperse a demonstration or crowd event before demonstrators have acted illegally or before the demonstrators pose a clear and present danger of imminent violence.
  2. The mere failure to obtain a permit, such as a parade permit or sound permit, is not a sufficient basis to declare an unlawful assembly. There must be criminal activity or a clear and present danger of imminent violence.
  3. The fact that some of the demonstrators or organizing groups have engaged in violent or unlawful acts on prior occasions or demonstrations is not grounds for declaring an assembly unlawful.
  4. Unless emergency or dangerous circumstances prevent negotiation, crowd dispersal techniques shall not be initiated until after attempts have been made through contacts with the police liaisons and demonstration or crowd event leaders to negotiate a resolution of the situation so that the unlawful activity will cease and the First Amendment activity can continue.
  5. If after a crowd disperses pursuant to a declaration of unlawful assembly and subsequently participants assemble at a different geographic location where the participants are engaged in non-violent and lawful First Amendment activity, such an assembly cannot be dispersed unless it has been determined that it is an unlawful assembly and the required official declaration has been adequately given.



As Volgyi2000 notes (again at Reddit), “This policy was drafted by the National Lawyers Guild and OPD’s adherence to it was part of the resolution of a large class action lawsuit brought forth by the NLG after the OPD injured 80 people during riots that occurred in 2003.” Can we expect the Justice Department to get involved? If not, you better believe there will be a lot of civil lawsuits.

BusinessInsider.com (which has been doing some stellar coverage of the Occupy Movement) has already pointed out that the OPD was in violation on several other levels, including use of  Specialty Impact Less-Lethal Munitions (SIM), which are supposed to be restricted.

Disturbing enough on its own, the Oakland PD then denied using SIM force on protesters at all and claimed that in fact, no one had been injured . Worse yet, after protesters were hit with an exploding device while attempting to come to the aid of Olsen, they had to carry him through the crowd, begging for medical aid even though dozens of Oakland Police looked on from the other side of their barrier.

Needless to say, not giving medical treatment to the injured is also a gross violation of policy.

It’s been reported that Tuesday night’s actions may have cost the city $1 million. Expect that figure to rise substantially once the lawsuits are concluded.

Occupy Oakland: website   | Twitter  | Livestream   |Facebook1 |Facebook2

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Also coming up in the next week:

  • November 5Bank transfer day. Vote with your cash! Close your account at one of the too-big-to-fail banks and move your money to a credit union or small, local bank. (Background here)
  • November 6Keystone pipeline protest . Climate activists Bill McKibben and 350.org harness the Occupy Wall Street energy to circle the White House, sending the message to President Obama that he shouldn’t approve a new pipeline to carry polluting tar sands oil through America’s heartland. (Background herehere, and here)
  • November 12, the City of London holds an annual Lord Mayor’s Show, basically a celebration of the banking industry. There will be protests  at that… as George Monbiot says, “Expect fireworks – and not just those laid on by the Lord Mayor.”

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.
  • Lawful Occupy Protestor

    I am greatly disturbed and saddened by Scott Olsen being injured but, the police declared it an unlawful assembly. You need to know your laws if you are going to protest. They didn’t move in with tear gas until rocks and bottles were being thrown at them. Check the interviews with protestors. They admittedly started throwing rocks and bottles. This action is considered Inciting a Riot which is against the law. There is no guarantee that the rocks and bottles being thrown would only hurt a specific target… Innocent bystanders get hurt. I cannot support nor will I protest with any group that feels they are above the law. Law enforcement officers support the cause. If you don’t understand that they must uphold the law then you are too ignorant to protest or for me to have a discussion with. Surely the protestors were not so ignorant that they felt they could throw rocks and bottles without some recourse. The ones that need to be held accountable for Scott Olsen are the idiots that started throwing the rocks and bottles. Martin Luther King, Jr., would be ashamed and appalled at the protestor’s behavior. He would have predicted the outcome just as it happened. For everyone’s safety, officers alike, adhere to peaceful protests. That is the only way you will win. If you don’t understand that… go to your history books. MLK understood the difference between Civil Disobedience and Peaceful Protests.

    • Jeremy Bloom

      Let’s be perfectly clear about this.
      1) There is no justification for throwing bottles and rocks at riot police. it’s just stupid
      2) There was NOT ANY KIND OF PROBLEM until the police showed up in riot gear.
      3) If there are a couple of people (and NOBODY claims it was more than a handful), wade into the crowd and grab those guys. As you’ll see in other videos, the OWS folks don’t want to have anything to do with provocateurs. There is no need to gas and fire on a crowd of several thousand if there are a couple of bad apples.
      4) If you want to play the bad apple game, then we should fire the entire Oakland Police Department because of the “handful of bad apples” we’ve seen on their side.
      5) And finally the Oakland PD’s own actions in infiltrating the Occupation with undercover cops makes everyone question whether the police themselves were responsible for fomenting the bottle-throwing.

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