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Oakland Police Department sponsored a rally Saturday with the hashtag “#safeOakland.” The headline speaker was OPD’s police chief LeRonne Armstrong with “invited guests” speaking as well. OPD’s event was to start at 12pm, presumably in response to the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), which had previously scheduled an event at Lake Merritt for 1pm that day.
“They announced their march three days after ours…confused how they have time for this while being so overworked and understaffed,” Cat Brooks from APTP remarked on Twitter.
About 80 or so people gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater. Three or four old crown vics, one with flashing red and blue lights, compressed the grass by the lakeside and a van from Continental Funeral Home sat on the sidewalk making it harder for people in wheelchairs to get by. Speakers said very little of substance in impassioned tones, sticking to vague phrases like “coming together” and “being united”, though one speaker to his credit did point the finger at economic injustice and white supremacy.
Deliberately missing from the conversation was the role of the police. It’s strange to think that after Oakland cops shot thousands of peaceful demonstrators with rubber bullets and chemical weapons just over a year ago, there was absolutely no mention of holding police accountable. The only mention of the cops I heard was a preacher praying for their safety using talking points I’d only really ever heard right wingers make.
“They wanna go home too to their families, so be with our officers, Lord, the men and women who run into the gun battles before we even know about them, Lord,” she said to scattered applause.
The same preacher repeatedly implored people not to “stand behind the veil of ‘I didn’t see anything,’” so essentially start snitching.
But the pro-cop crowd with their matching t-shirts with #safeoakland on them weren’t the only people there. A group of about 20 police abolitionists showed up and stood in the back of the march with colorful signs, one of which said “ACAB (all cops are bastards), even your dad,” “OPD sex trafficked a 17 year old girl,” and a big banner that said “Police are domestic terrorists.” Grinning, leering men held out their phones and recorded them. A small sailboat scudded across the lake with a purple flag that said ACAB on it. Cops had to stand around next to graffiti that said “FUCK THE POLICE.”
Things got tense after one of the police abolitionists got on a megaphone during a pause between speakers to start saying the names of people murdered by OPD. A group of mostly men including Daryle Allums of “Stop killing our kids” and Adamika Village and anti-houseless group “Neighbors Together” founder and former Oakland City Council candidate Seneca Scott came over to shout at the kids holding the banner and the megaphone. The gist of their grievance was that “this wasn’t the time or place” to go after OPD and that there were “grieving families” there. To the “grieving families” point, one of the police abolitionists retorted, “[OPD is] using your pain as a shield. They’re using your loved ones as a shield.” Given that OPD said on their own flyer they were hand-picking who could speak, the abolitionists weren’t wrong.
“OPD are exploiting Oaklanders pain to make sure they keep getting the largest chunk of the money,” APTP wrote on twitter after the pro-police rally.
The pro-cop protesters accused the police abolitionists of being “mostly white,” a talking point I used to only see Nazis use. Both of the crowds were about half white people and half nonwhite people. It was pretty obvious that like most of the far-right crowds I cover, these people put black people who happened to agree with them front and center for cynical public relations reasons.
“Your white privilege is standing here! You don’t deserve to be here!” one woman from the pro-police crowd shouted.
“You are not our people! Get the fuck out!” a man shouted while getting in the face of one of the abolitionists and lurching forward like he was about to hit them.
The tactic works like this: have a person with a marginalized identity say “I’m from this oppressed class so you have to shut up and listen to me, never mind what I’m saying, how dare you oppose me!” It’s cynical and only ever used to deflect from bigotry. And OPD has a lot of bigotry to deflect from. If you’re a black man in Oakland you’re eight times more likely to get stopped by the cops than a white man. An ARCGIS study found that 90-97% of police killings between 1968 and 2020 in Oakland were people of color. The department’s sins go on and on from child trafficking to barraging protesters with chemical weapons. OPD has a lot to answer for, including using far-right propaganda tactics.
The pro-police crowd used other tactics I’ve seen from right-wing extremists. Seneca Scott demanded someone take off their mask and “let me see your face.” It was like I was back in Berkeley in 2017 again with chuds shouting “TAKE OFF YOUR MASK, ANTEEFA!” Over and over, I saw the tallest, most built men on the pro-cop side tower over the shortest and most light-framed police abolitionists and shout at them. They had prepared, disingenuous talking points that deflected from the fact that OPD was even there. And right wing media was eager to jump on it.
“I didn’t capture enough video from the rally, but pretty dramatic scenes from someone else there of Oakland residents from the stop the violence rally arguing with the antifa protesters who showed up to jeer at them,” Lee Fang of The Intercept wrote on Twitter.
The video Fang shared was under a quote tweet of a neoNazi account called “AntifaWatch2” that has repeatedly targeted myself and other journalists who cover right wingers critically—not to mention stolen our videos. Fang’s boosting of the disinformation and his own completely inaccurate comments were boosted by longtime far-right propagandist Andy Ngo. Fang also appears to have used information from other inauthentic accounts in his reporting. The narrative was clear: this wasn’t OPD steamrolling over an Anti Police-Terror Project event and cynically weaponizing peoples’ grief against police abolitionists. Instead, this was horrible anteefa mocking and jeering at people whose family were killed by guns at an anti-gun violence rally.
In reality, the abolitionists generally waited until there was a pause between speakers to say the names of people killed by OPD, never initiated any of the shouting matches and stayed put away from the pro-cop rally. When the pro-cop crowd packed up and started marching, the abolitionists blasted “fuck the police” and started walking in the other direction.