Parker Elementary Activists Demand Investigation After Clash with OUSD Security

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a group of people wearing masks clash with security officers in the doorway to a school building as someone films
Protesters at Parker Elementary School clash with Oakland Unified School District security officers in this screenshot from a video posted on social media by independent journalist Jaime Omar Yassin. (Jaime Omar Yassin via Twitter)

Community organizers occupying Parker Elementary School in East Oakland demanded answers from the school district on Friday, a day after district security forces attempted to remove them from the premises in what witnesses described as a violent altercation.

Among those involved in the Thursday evening incident was Max Orozco, an Oakland parent-organizer and school board candidate. He said Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) security officers handcuffed and detained him at the scene in what he called "an attack."

Parker Liberation member and Oakland school board candidate Max Orozco, speaking at a Friday press conference, described being violently detained by OUSD security officers on Thursday evening during a confrontation at the school. (Annelise Finney/KQED)

According to eyewitnesses, he was held inside for nearly two hours as nearly 60 people gathered outside demanding his release.

Parker is among the 11 city schools that the district in February chose to permanently close or merge due to budget issues. The school was officially shuttered May 25.

But a group of parents and students ​​who staunchly oppose the closure took over the building in early June. Since then, members of the “Parker Liberation,” as the group calls itself, have been living inside the building and hosting a community-run summer school — part of an effort that organizers say echoes the work of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s.

Multiple people involved in the incident said they responded to a message on social media alerting the community that district security guards were forcefully preventing people from entering the building.

After officers eventually reopened the building, “the staff were just violent with community members, just pushing and punching,” said community organizer Pecolia Manigo. “There were people harmed, physically beaten today, and that was not OK."

"I'm really proud of our community for a quick response — that people came and saw and witnessed the violence that these OUSD event staff were executing with ... it was unnecessary," she added. "And I hope that we can have a better conversation about our police-free schools, and making sure anybody that's representing and/or on the payroll of our district is not violent toward our community members."

Parker Liberation members said more than 10 people sustained mild to moderate injuries during the confrontation and two went to the hospital for treatment.

Reached on Thursday night, during the confrontation, OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki said that when security first arrived at the building in the afternoon, no one was there.

"So, we changed the locks and set the alarm,” he said in an email. “Someone picked, cut, or otherwise broke through a lock to get back inside the building. They were removed. Now, we are doing what we can to keep several others from entering the building."

Videos posted to Twitter by an account called “Parker For The People” and by independent Oakland journalist Jaime Omar Yassin show chaotic clashes between protesters and security guards at the front doors and hallway of the school. Officers who appear to be with the Oakland Police Department are also seen standing by.

As of Friday morning, activists were back inside Parker Elementary, and organizers indicated at the press conference that they had no plans to change course.

"We're here to serve our community by any means necessary," said parent-organizer Rochelle Jenkins.

Oakland City Councilmember Carroll Fife, who came to the scene on Thursday, said she will work with fellow council members and the school board to find a solution to the Parker standoff. She called the current situation “untenable.”

Orozco, who had a cut lip on Friday and said he was experiencing chest pain as a result of the altercation, called for accountability, saying the community deserved to know who had given the security officers their orders.

"I am not a violent person," he said. "I do call on all these high officials in the school district to investigate what happened to me yesterday and show consequences to these people."

An OUSD spokesperson did not immediately respond on Friday to requests for comment about the incident and what the district planned to do next. The district’s first board of education meeting of the 2022-2023 school year is scheduled for Wednesday.

This story includes reporting from KQED's Annelise Finney.

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