The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild rattled its legal saber at the Oakland Police Department on Monday, raising concerns about the police response to protests in the city on Nov. 9 and 10 following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.
But the organization that has successfully championed lawsuits stemming from OPD crowd control tactics in the past stopped short of announcing any new litigation.
"At this point, this is a message," said attorney Carey Lamprecht, who is co-chair of the NLG Bay Area's demonstrations committee. "In a moment where Oakland is tense, where we will continue to be out in the streets, we are concerned. We’re calling OPD out at this moment because as things progress in this country, we will be in the streets. People’s First Amendment rights must be respected."
A relatively muted protest on election night was followed by a 7,000-person march the following evening.
The event proceeded peacefully until about 8 p.m., when protesters met a police line at Eighth and Washington streets. A brief standoff ensued. The video below shows the scene moments after police attempted to disperse the crowd with some sort of explosive devices (it was unclear whether the devices dispersed tear gas).
"The first time that they unleashed tear gas on us, we were still in peaceful protest mode," said Cat Brooks, interim executive director of the Bay Area NLG and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. "They still have their own crowd control policies, use-of- force policies, that they are expected to follow."
Police made 30 arrests during protests on Nov. 9 and another 11 the following evening, when about 1,000 people protested, according to the Police Department. Prosecutors have so far charged eight people with a host of misdemeanors -- for allegedly smashing storefront windows, throwing bottles at police and assault with a stun gun. One person has been charged with a pair of felonies for allegedly possessing and then throwing a Molotov cocktail into a crowd.
That defendant, Angel Nuno, admitted to throwing the incendiary device into a large group of demonstrators on Nov. 10, according to charging documents.
"Nuno stated that he threw the Molotov Cocktail because he hated Donald Trump and hated white people," the documents say.
The National Lawyers Guild is mustering criminal defense for those arrested, Lamprecht said, in addition to considering civil litigation. She said the group doesn't criticize the tactics of protesters.
Brooks said organizers shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of a small, unaffiliated group of people committing crimes.
"I think it's unfair to expect people that call for protests, that call for people to come into the street, to be responsible for what another group of people decide to do," Brooks said. She added that acts of violence by small groups of people at large protests in Oakland shouldn't "excuse the Oakland Police Department for what we know is decades ... of violations of the civil rights of people and the human rights of people."
The Oakland Police Department has provided arrest numbers and other facts about the protests, but department representatives have not responded to repeated requests for interviews on the subject.
"The Oakland Police Department takes all use of force incidents seriously," a statement provided by the Police Department says. "Currently, the department is investigating and reviewing the use of force incidents that occurred during protests this month (November 2016). Per departmental policy, we review all uses of force. Additionally, the Oakland Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division investigates all use of force complaints."