Oakland Police Prepare for Protests as Ferguson Grand Jury Decision Looms

Oakland police on patrol.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A grand jury is reported to be close to deciding whether to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9.

Police in Oakland, who have dealt with tensions from their own officer-involved shootings of unarmed black men in the past, say they are ready to "facilitate" any local protest that may arise.

Attorney Jim Chanin represented Scott Olsen, who suffered major injuries from police during an Occupy Oakland demonstration in October 2011.  He says these next protests, if they happen, will put OPD's new crowd control policy to the test.

"A test of whether we're moving forward, and a test of whether, you know, we see continued improvement in the community relations between Oakland and the people they police," said Chanin.

Shooting a bean bag, like the one that caused Olsen's brain damage, is prohibited under the rules. Police can still use "less than lethal" crowd control measures, but need to stay within strict guidelines.

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"I think that there will be a possibility of use of less than lethal," Chanin says. "You can use less than lethal, but it has to be used if the person is either a direct threat to someone's life, or is about to cause great bodily injury, or is about to cause severe and great property damage, like throwing a bomb or something like that. That's part one. And part two is that you can't use it in a way that endangers other members of the crowd that are not deserving to be shot."

Quan's Letter to Residents

Mayor Jean Quan says she is committed to "facilitating peaceful expressions and demonstrations" in Oakland.

"We are providing this information to raise awareness about these events, not to alarm, and so that you may plan ahead," she wrote in a letter to residents.

The Oakland Police Department has not had an officer-involved shooting in the last 17 months, according to Quan.

"We also have a tremendous decline in the number of complaints. The crime rate is down as well, which just goes to show that you can have constitutional law enforcement and still have a lowering of crime and effective policing," Chanin said.

There is no specific date for an announcement on whether Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson will face charges for his deadly shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed. The St. Louis County prosecutor has said he expects the grand jury to reach a decision in mid-to-late November.

Protesters Prepare for Decision

Oakland city officials are preparing for protesters to converge on Frank Ogawa Plaza. ABC7 also reports on planned demonstrations.

"We are saying when the decision comes down regardless of what the decision is people should be out in the streets," D'Andre Teeter of Stop Mass Incarceration Network said. "There should be no business as usual in the country."

The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network has plans in place for vigils and protests in at least two dozen cities no matter what decision is announced, he said. Demonstrators will gather outside U.S. government buildings to demand federal prosecutors take over the case.

"We are prepared to continue to mobilize. We are calling for everyone to act in a strategic, disciplined, nonviolent way, but do not allow either decision to feel like the case is over."

The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation, and it has not said when its work will be completed. It's looking into potential civil rights violations in Wilson's actions and the police department's overall practices, including whether officers used excessive force and engaged in discriminatory practices.

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Tom Hays, Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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