Oakland Police tossed concussion grenades and shot wooden bullets at anti-war protesters and union members, injuring several, on the Oakland docks.
Around 500 anti-war activists had set up a peaceful picket shouting “Union Yes! War No!” at American Presidential Lines because it ships military cargo and Stevedoring Services of America docks because it stands to profit from the war through a contract to run the docks in Um Quasr after the war in Iraq.
Representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union determined that they would not cross the picket line because the police presence presented a threat to their members’ health and safety, thereby shutting down the morning shift on the docks.
The decision proved correct as minutes later, cops charged motorcycles into peaceful picketers and union members, threw concussion grenades at them and then opened fire with high velocity wooden blocks.
Sue Sandlin, former co-chair of the Port Workers Solidarity Committee, described the action to Socialist Worker.
“The police came down the street towards us in a military formation. Protesters actually had decided to take down the picket because our plan was to have a peaceful protest on public property. We were trying to figure out how to disperse because the cops had blocked the entrance that most of us had used to get to the gates of the docks. We began walking away from the police lines, trying to get to the sides of the road. Then police opened fire. People were being shot in the back as they tried to get away. Me and my friend dove into a ditch and she was hit by a rubber bullet. There were people dropping after being hit and there were explosions all around from the police percussion grenades. I was afraid people were being killed. The police were firing indiscriminately at protesters who were fleeing as well as workers who were stopped in their cars in the middle of the street. It was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had. After the initial shock wore off, everyone wase appalled by the police and concerned for the people who’d been wounded. So we tended to the people who had fallen and then we regrouped in an effort to get out as safely as possible in order to regroup later.”
Trent Willis, a business agent for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, told the Associated Press, “They shot my guys. We’re not going to work today. The cops had no reason to open up on them.”
Police arrested 24 protesters, including ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Jack Heyman.
As Heyman was dragged away in handcuffs, wearing his ILWU jacket, he shouted, “I’m a union official. I have the right to represent my members!”
International Socialist Organization member Regina, told Socialist Worker, “After the cops charged us, I dove into a ditch and that’s when they shot me in the elbow. Some fucking democracy! we can’t even have a peaceful picket!”
Steve Stallone, spokesman for the ILWU who was present at the protest told Socialist Worker, “Clearly this was an inappropriate use of force. They police shot the union workers they were supposedly there to protect. If they’d wanted to keep people away from the docks, they could have just put up a barricade a half mile away. They never needed to shot at what was clearly a non-violent action.”
In fact, police response was no spontaneous over reaction.
For at least 15 minutes, police formed lines, calmly aimed at fleeing protesters and fired.
They came prepared to use a massive level of violence in order to intimidate the union and the anti-war movement from ever trying to take action on the docks.
The Oakland Police Department has a reputation for violence and, in fact, just paid out eleven million dollars in civil settlement involving framing and beating innocent Oaklanders by a group of cops called the “Riders.”
The labor movement should show its solidarity with its own members of the ILWU and for the right of the anti-war movement to conduct peaceful protests by denouncing this unprovoked police brutality in clear terms.
Todd Chretien writes for the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: ChretienTodd@aol.com
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