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Oakland Police investigating two city council members for Mehserle protest conduct

(7/14) — UPDATED 15:25 PDT — OAKLAND — City Council members Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan are coming under fire for intervening in a Downtown Oakland confrontation between police and protesters last Thursday after the verdict was announced in the trial for former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle.

Police are investigating the two mayoral candidates as part of an ongoing civil unrest probe into the July 8 events. Kaplan and Quan say they were there to keep the demonstrations peaceful and calm a tense situation that escalated after nightfall.

The event in question began near Oakland City Hall after nearly 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets to peacefully voice opposition to the ruling in the case — Mehserle was charged with second-degree murder but a jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter.

A video by Bay Citizen reporter Richard Parks shows Kaplan and Quan on 14th Street near the intersection with Broadway after a few protesters threw bottles at police. Kaplan can be heard scolding them, saying “We don’t throw things. That’s not how we stand for peace,” as Quan gathers people to form a barrier in front of the police.

Moments later an Oakland Police officer declares the protest an unlawful assembly.

In another video by CBS5-TV the two council members can be seen linking arms with other people as they walk in front of the policel ine. At one point Kaplan yells at advancing officers, saying “Hey, Hey, we are moving. We’re moving calmly,” and then again, “Hey, hey, hey, sir. That’s not okay. We’re moving, we’re moving calmly. Stop it.”

Later, as rows of police officers in riot gear continue to advance, Quan tells remaining protesters to leave as Kaplan sings “Give Peace a Chance.”

In the video Quan works with officers to make sure those protesters who weren’t involved with provoking the police were able to get out of the situation easily, as police had begun blocking people in. Quan told a CBS reporter in the video that she wanted to ensure the protest remained peaceful. “The main thing is to keep people calm and not let them overreact,” she says.

A San Francisco Chronicle photo depicting Kaplan reaching out her arm and touching a police officer as she tries to keep them from advancing on protesters elicited several comments on the Oakland Police Officers Association’s Facebook page, with many upset at what they viewed as the women blocking officers.

According to Matier and Ross, one officer on the police line that night told them the two council members were making their job difficult.

“They were encouraging people not to listen to us,” the officer told the Chronicle reporters.

“At one point, Kaplan was even giving a TV interview while her arms were locked, blocking us,” the cop told them. “If we had needed to go into the crowd, we shouldn’t have to worry about going through a council member first.”

The police department says its investigation continues into what happened during Thursday’s protests, including determining if Kaplan and Quan behaved legally.

Oakland Police spokesperson Jeff Thomason said officers on the ground that night have relayed to the department their “observations” of the council members’ behavior, and the police agency is still collecting evidence, analyzing video footage and sifting through paperwork.

A decision on whether to pursue charges against either of the council members will come “soon,” Thomason said.

Quan said any charges brought against her would be “highly political” given that no complaints were made against her the night of the protest. Instead, she said this is another attack by the police union to try and undermine her bid for mayor; she and Kaplan are running against fellow mayoral candidate Don Perata, who the police union has voiced its support for.

In the last month Quan, as chairwoman of the council’s budget committee, has been the subject of mailers and robo calls by the police union over layoffs. Quan voted for the layoffs at the council’s June 25 meeting while Kaplan voted against them.

80 Oakland police officers lost their jobs yesterday after negotiations between the union and city officials failed to reach an agreement by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

Quan said she first formed a line with only a few other people when bottles started being hurled over her head and aimed at police. Only a few minutes later, after the provocateurs had run away, she said police gave orders for the crowd to disperse.

As riot cops advanced, the goal of their growing human chain switched to preventing anyone from being trampled and allowing peaceful protesters to leave.

“We were doing what literally dozens of others were doing around the square — trying to get people out safely,” Quan said.

Contact Jennifer Courtney at jcourtney@californiabeat.org.


  • Jenny M said:

    It’s all political? Isn’t that why Kaplan and Quan were there? To further their political aspirations? Instead they hindered police officers in a volatile situation, and they want to claim credit for dealing with the crowd! How can either of them be mayor when neither of them respect rule of law or the people who put their lives on the line to enforce it?

  • Sam R said:

    @ Jenny M: A police officer shot a civilian while he was face down on the ground and killed him, and got charged with “involuntary manslaughter”. I’m not trying to say that throwing bottles solves anything, but there’s absolutely no reason to respect an officer if they won’t respect the lives of the people they have sworn to protect. It would have been easy for Kaplan and Quan to dodge this volatile situation with word games or outright avoidance like most politicians do (Google: Bush + Katrina), and my guess is as soon as one of them is elected they’ll act like the whole thing never happened, but that day they both chose to take a stand. They actually stood on the side of the people of Los Angeles, if only for a brief period of time, to address police brutality and injustice, and the riot police felt threatened by the political power of the crowd because of them. For that I think these politicians deserve special commendation, because even if they’re pretending to care, they’re better actors than most of the nitwits we’ve got running the USA.

  • Mel said:

    More of the usual crap from Oakland. The new BART police chief who’s supposed to make everything wonderful now, was seen at a protest gathering against one of his former officers, Johannes Mehserle. Wow, no bias against the defendant from a public official, now is there? BART is run by fools, and Mehserle paid the price for believing in them.

  • Kat said:

    Mel, Mehserle shot and killed an unarmed man while he was lying face-down on the pavement. Try to remember that, please.

    As far as I can tell from this article, Kaplan and Quan were trying to use their influence in order to keep things from escalating into violence. Good for them.