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OPD and Blackwater: snatch and grabs, tanks and tear gas

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Last week the scandal-ridden Oakland Police Department came under heavy criticism when it hinted that it might forgo its nine year old, court mandated crowd control policy and replace it with targeted arrests. The department claimed that the shift was a proper response to uproar over its handling of Occupy Oakland demonstrators, who have filed at least 1,000 official complaints against the police since the movement was born last September. Police tactics against Occupy Oakland have involved heavy deployment of chemical weapons, flash bang grenades and other "less than lethal" weaponry.

Yesterday the federal court monitor overseeing OPD's compliance with the nine year old policy released a report condemning it for an "overwhelming military-type response" to demonstrators, finding that as demonstrators on the scene alleged it was indeed an Oakland PD SWAT officer who shot Iraq war veteran and demonstrator Scott Olsen in the head. (While reports from the scene indicated he had been hit by a tear gas cannister, the court monitor found it was a bean bag projectile.) The report also says that after firing at Olsen, OPD officers fired tear gas rounds at people who ran to aid him as he lay bleeding in the street.

OPD wants it both ways? Military snatch and grabs and tanks, tear gas

Police Chief Howard Johnson said that the new tactics — which include military style "snatch and grab" assaults on demonstrators, wherein small groups of trained officers target particular activists for arrest in crowds — would replace heavy handed assaults on crowds, perhaps thinking the preemptive arrest tactic would sit better with the public. But the announcement of the sudden shift in policy was met with denunciations from civil liberties groups and activists, prompting the City to appear to back off, claiming that it would not deploy "snatch and grab" at May Day protests today.

But instead, Oakland's ABC affiliate reported Tuesday morning that police did indeed intend to deploy the new tactics:

Police say they are using new crowd control techniques to identify and get troublemakers out of the larger group….The tactics Oakland police are using reflect the changes made and lessons learned from previous Occupy demonstrations. The goal: to identify and remove demonstrators police identify as troublemakers before they incite the larger crowd.

Pre-crime, anyone? Sounds pretty creepy. The CIA, US military and mercenary company Blackwater have been engaged in snatch and grabs in Afghanistan for years. What's good enough for Blackwater in Afghanistan is apparently good enough for the police in Oakland? 

So what happened in the streets? 

OPD brought out both an "overwhelming military-type response" and its "new and improved" pre-crime snatch maneuvers.  

As for snatch and grabs, reports are still coming in, but we know for sure that officers tazed a one person before they arrested him and tackled a woman on a bike before arresting her. At least nine people have been arrested; it remains unclear how many were taken using the Blackwater-beloved, surprise assault mechanism.

The video above shows officers firing flash bangs into the crowd today; tear gas was also deployed…And OPD brought out this tank:

Photo: @marymad

Is OPD eager to get taken over by the federal government? If it keeps up these heavy handed assaults, that day may be coming sooner than later.

Meanwhile, police in Seattle also fired tear gas to disperse May Day protesters. And in New York City, the NYPD came out in huge force to meet tens of thousands in the streets. Stay tuned for more information on police militarization and dissent. Below is a video depicting NYPD police brutality at Veterans Plaza. Check Kevin Gosztola's blog for more updates on police tactics at May Day events nationwide.

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If you have video of photos of arrests or police brutality from any #M1GS events today, please get in touch. h/t @beingtherewith for info from Oakland.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.