Will anyone ask Occupy questions of the SDPD?

by on November 3, 2011 · 23 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Popular, San Diego

By Lucas O’Connor / TwoCathedrals.com / November 2, 2011

It’s been a heady couple of weeks for OccupySD, indeed for the entire national Occupy effort. The dynamics of the movement and the importance of the issues being raised provide plenty to chew over for a long time yet, but even more immediately, its interactions with police have raised a number of questions that the public deserves answers to. None of these issues are raised with any presumption that the SDPD will be unable to provide a good explanation — I both expect and hope that they will. But that’s different than not caring if those answers are ever provided. It’s still necessary to raise these questions and require a meaningful process of accountability.

  • More than two weeks ago, police used pepper spray and/or mace (depending on the report) on members of OccupySD. An AP photographer was among those who documented the moment. Police have not, thus far, explained what justified this action. Presumably the vast majority of people would like to know how to not get maced by police, so explaining to the public what actions justify such a response is an issue of public information and safety. If we don’t collectively expect that the police have to explain the reason for publicly macing citizens — no matter how good the explanation turns out to be — it sets a dangerous precedent.
  • The Union-Tribune reported over the weekend that, in the pre-dawn action conducted by police and sheriffs on October 28th, among the items seized by police were “4-5 cameras.” There are separate claims that police were “grabbing…and destroying” cameras at the Occupy site. Now, no matter how justified law enforcement has been in enforcing a prohibition on permanent encampment, it’s exceptionally difficult to imagine how a camera could be considered contributory to any kind of encampment or provide a physical threat. Obviously carrying a camera around downtown San Diego is not illegal, so it’s particularly important to address this question because of the appearance that law enforcement was specifically attempting to confiscate or destroy documentation of police behavior. We need to know if and why law enforcement seized personal property that was not contributing to encampment and, if so, for what reason.
  • At the press conference that morning, Police Chief Lansdowne denied accusations that police had targeted members of the Occupy media team for arrest during the action. However, video (below, focus on 1:55 to 2:35, watch out for language) clearly shows police bypassing a half dozen other protesters to single out and arrest an occupier immediately identified as a member of the media team. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some other reason that she was singled out, but obviously she was singled out, which challenges the statement made later by police. If there’s a different reason that explains that specific targeting, that’s fine, but a simple denial does not and should not cut it as an explanation for anyone.

  • Later that same day, a number of people at the Occupy site claimed that there were bloodstains on the concrete left by physical confrontations between occupiers and police during the pre-dawn action. There was a second round of tension when police attempted to power-wash the area. There were sketchy reports afterwards that evidence was collected, but if there’s been any further explanation of this point by the police, coverage has been exceptionally limited. There’s nothing conclusive in either direction as to what it was or what happened, but the claims are exceptionally serious and demand a clear resolution one way or another.
  • There were also reports that occupiers at Children’s Park had negotiated an understanding with police that allowed them to camp there overnight. However, encroachment and violation of the park’s curfew was cited by police as the reason for clearing the area and making arrests. It’s not clear how much warning, if any, was given before the Friday morning clearing and arrests in the pre-dawn hours. While police absolutely had laws to enforce that would allow their actions, if they had come to a separate arrangement with the people there and gave them little or no notice that the deal was expiring, that’s important information to the story of what went on that day.
  • Then, the account posted here on Friday, that the city contractors that were cleaning the Occupy site after the pre-dawn clearing on the 28th were violating the same municipal code that was used to justify that police action. Not only were police observing this violation, they were providing physical security for the violation and refused an explicit request to enforce the law. By all appearances, police knowingly provided security for city contractors who were in the process of breaking the law. The same law that police enforced just hours earlier in the same exact location. That legitimately raises a number of questions, and the Police Department should be expected to explain the apparent selective enforcement.
  • In a brief Twitter exchange recently with the counsel to the Chief of Police, I tried to understand the legal distinction between the homeless people that are legally allowed to camp out on downtown streets and the occupiers who SDPD have decided are not allowed to camp out. He either could not or would not explain the legal distinction in that brief exchange, but it’s increasingly relevant to understand what the basis is. Whether there should or should not be a distinction is beside the point: If there is a legal basis for a distinction, it shouldn’t be too hard for police to point to it. If there is not, then there are other questions about how decisions are being made. In Nashville, a judge halted arrests indefinitely, noting problems with selective enforcement and said that ‘unsanitary conditions’ were insufficient grounds for police to clear an Occupy site and arrest participants. If police are making a judgment call that isn’t rooted in a codified distinction, that opens up legal questions about selective enforcement. There are now two possible problems with selective enforcement around San Diego Occupy — one about who is allowed to sleep in public and why, one specifically to do with enforcing sanitation code. Since selective enforcement is causing legal problems elsewhere already, it makes perfect sense for SDPD to explain why these are not cases of selective enforcement.
  • Finally, disturbing allegations were presented to the San Diego City Council this week by occupiers who were detained in the October 29th raid. It includes one woman saying that detainees were denied water or access to bathrooms, forced to defecate on the floor of the police van, later sit in urine, and that she was at one point choked by a law enforcement officer. Nobody who wasn’t there can say with certainty what actually went on (I certainly don’t know), but these are allegations that must be addressed and cannot be allowed to just disappear into the ether. If they’re true, action is obviously necessary. If they aren’t true, there’s an obligation to restore law enforcement’s good name. Either way, it demands an answer.

That’s a full press conference by itself, just off the top of my head, and I expect and hope that police can provide good answers to all of these questions. But before even reaching that point, I expect these questions to simply be asked at some point by someone. Between media, lawyers and watchdog groups, this shouldn’t be difficult. Respect has to be earned through accountability, not avoidance or stonewalling, and as Josh Richman said just this morning, “I don’t trust anyone. If I did, I wouldn’t be a very good reporter, would I?” It’s a basic necessity of a functional society that the public knows how and why they are being policed, but it isn’t going to happen without an insistence on accountability. We’re now facing a fundamental concern over whether San Diego is equipped to even insist that the questions be raised and sufficiently answered, no matter what those answers ultimately are.

Perhaps a potential lawsuit from one of the occupiers will bring some answers to light, but if that’s what it takes to maybe get answers, we’re already in trouble. A collective failure to expect basic answers both discourages people from raising concerns in the first place and fosters a complacency that will inevitably lead to abuses at some point. And if a failure to seriously pursue answers to such questions ever, in any situation, allows impropriety to go unexposed, it’s a systemic breakdown.

I hope we do get these questions. I hope they’re already being asked or have already been asked and I just haven’t yet seen the answers reported. But in these first few days and weeks, there are worrisome suggestions that San Diego just doesn’t have the apparatus to insist on a basic level of accountability.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar julie mckane November 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm

At the OccSD GA last nite, a rep from the citzens SDPD complaint review panel, passed out forms and encouraged any affected person to file an official complaint that will be viewed an acted upon. The Police in SD have not been helpful and need to be help accountable. Chief Lansdowne is a political windbag and tool of the mayor.


avatar Monty Reed Kroopkin November 4, 2011 at 7:53 am

Anybody completing one of these complaint forms needs to keep a copy and provide a copy to the ACLU and to the National Lawyers Guild. We wouldn’t want a perfectly good complaint form to somehow get “lost” now, would we?


avatar mike November 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Lucas – If “…San Diego just doesn’t have the apparatus to insist on a basic level of accountability” is true; then we need to fight harder to make everyone aware we live in a police state here in SD. I don’t like it one bit, unfortunately many many San Diegans don’t seem to mind living a life bound by chains? This has to stop. This will stop or people will make it stop. I will make this stop.


avatar Sup November 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I think that it as a bit exaggerated to assert that we live in a police state. What evidence do you have to support that theory? It seems that that is the common battle cry among the malcontent…err, the protesters. One should know that a police confrontation is probable and is a calculated risk when demonstrating. It seems that to a large degree, some protesters have the inability to accept any responsibility for their actions and the consequences. It’s like someone running across a busy street and getting hit by a car and crying foul. Logic does not seem to be the strong point of the OSD movement.


avatar julie mckane November 4, 2011 at 12:25 am

Go down to civic plaza some evening and see the police presents. You may have a different opinion.


avatar david November 4, 2011 at 12:39 am

why is it a calculated risk to assemble to redress grievances when that right is the first
freedom guaranteed? if a police confrontation is inevitable than all the more reason we should all be outraged. i think the very definition of a police state is one that punishes all challengers to their authority. i suggest logic is not your strong suit. yours is rationalizing vicious unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators.


avatar Reality Check November 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Really? Anybody could see that confrontation was coming. The protesters were asked to move from the plaza and after they did they decided to move back to the plaza. The police told them it was illegal for them to camp there. Camping and assembling to redress grievances are two different things. You can’t equate “peaceful” with law abiding. I even heard one protester on the news say, “We’re going to move back into the plaza. We are peaceful and if they ask us to leave we will refuse and stand our ground.” That sounds like they were expecting some sort of confrontation doesn’t it?


avatar Monty Reed Kroopkin November 4, 2011 at 7:56 am

Sup, Have you even read the so-called Patriot Act? Did you ever hear the name “Oscar Grant”?


avatar Lucas O'Connor November 4, 2011 at 9:07 am

I think the more specific point is that, if San Diego’s media and watchdog groups turn out to not be up to this task, then it’s a citizen responsibility to hold *those* groups accountable as well.

As I said, even if/when SDPD has a good answer for every one of these points, if the people whose job it is to raise the questions in the first place fail to do so, that’s a problem all on its own.


avatar Gordon Wagner November 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Police feel about cameras the way vampires feel about crucifixes…


avatar Lisa Wylie November 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I would also like to know why chains and padlocks were used to lock the glass doors on the C street side of the building while I was in General Assembly on Nov 1. Between the police barricade on the east side and chained exits on the C street side, I felt as if my safety was violated by being penned in on all sides.


avatar Terrie Best November 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Great article! Thanks for posting this OB Rag. You folks have been a huge help to the Occupy Movement.

Many thanks for being the voice of the people, time and time again.


avatar Tammy November 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I’d like to know why the ACLU is not taking this to a federal court for an IMMEDIATE injuntion against the City?

Please ask : Kevin Keenan, Executive Director, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. P.O. Box 87131 San Diego, CA 92138-7131. Phone: (619) 232-2121
Email: info@aclusandiego.org


avatar Mark E. Smith November 4, 2011 at 6:53 am

Kevin gave a teach-in at the Civic Center on Wednesday, November 2, 2011, at 3:00 p.m. There were many people in attendance (I estimated about 50, but I didn’t take an exact count) and several were sitting in chairs they had brought with them. There were at least ten police officers standing nearby and at one point several police officers walked directly toward the group, staring straight at us, and only veering off as they came close by. When the Assistant Chief of Police walked by, Kevin said, “Hi, Boyd!” and got a wave of recognition in return. All the police officers saw people sitting on chairs, and were aware that the event was an official Occupy San Diego teach-in. Since the SDPD has prohibited OccupySD protesters from having chairs in the Civic Center plaza, usually demand that any protester with a chair remove it immediately, and confiscated chairs as part of their removal of what they apparently considered to be an illegal encampment, I’d like to know why they ignored the chairs when Keven and several other lawyers were present.

Either it was selective enforcement, or it was deliberate dereliction of duty. I’m thinking of filing a complaint against Boyd, who could not have failed to notice the chairs when he responded to Kevin’s greeting, and who did not direct the officers under his command to remove the chairs, because I and many other senior citizens have difficulty standing for long periods of time or sitting on a stone or concrete floor, and the prohibition against chairs (or prohibition against chairs when and only when lawyers are not present, as the case may be) makes it extremely difficult for us to exercise our 1st Amendment rights.

Since Kevin appears to be more concerned about not taking on a case that might be difficult, or that might mar his record of legal wins, than he is about defending Constitutional rights or civil liberties, I suspect that he may be in an inappropriate job for someone of his disposition.


avatar Gabriel November 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm

i can’t believe how nice the SDPD seemed the first week of the occupation. I wonder when they decided to get violent with OSD


avatar What would OSD Do? November 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm

@ mike. “Police state”? Isn’t that a bit melodramatic? Sounds to me like you were poking a sleeping bear and got bitch slapped. Now you wanna go go cry to your mommy. C’mon man! Everybody knows it’s not a real protest until someone gets pepper sprayed or thumped in the noggin.

And @ lisa, what the hell does “safety was violated” mean? Were you hurt? I don’t know, sounds like you guys are a bunch of wimps that deserve no respect.


avatar david November 4, 2011 at 1:28 am

bitch slapped? is that when a real man (not a wimp

bitch slapped? really? is that what happens when a real man ( wimps are not men)
strikes someone for acting like a woman. or is that what your mommy did to you when you went crying to her. sounds like there are some deep issues here playing themselves out under the cover of political commentary.
i’ve known a few cops and i have to tell you they sound a lot like you, angry at women angry at the weak, constantly compelled to act out some distorted ideal of manliness. mike, if your not a cop you might have missed your calling.


avatar OB Joe November 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Keep it going and keep it real, San Diego occupiers – there’s a lot of us out in the community who support the best of what you do. Thank you to all who help out and donate money and food. Thank you Lucas for your timely article.


avatar Steve Smith November 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Hi, does anyone know what’s happened to the “livestream” feed on the OccupySD.org site and the lively chat that usually went on there? It seems to have completely disappeared. Thanks, Steve


avatar Patty Jones November 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm

There are a few livestreams and I’ve lost track of which are which… This one has chat but is not live, there are a couple others but they are not live right now either and no chat happening. This is another feed on Ustream and is live right now… Hope you find the one you’re looking for.


avatar Mike Chek November 3, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Everyone involved needs to think about our problems and figure a way to resolve each one.


avatar Rocky Neptun November 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm

The accountability process, some would say the legal system, indeed, moves very sluggish. There are endeavors in San Diego going on however.

(1). The local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is presently compiling statements and information in preparation for a law suit on behalf of those injured by the October 14, police actions. They have asked for anyone who was assaulted or injured to contact their offices.

(2). The San Diego Renters Union has formally petitioned the American Civil Liberties Union to (a). bring a class-action suit on behalf of the people of San Diego for the police abuse of Oct. 14 and (b) seek an injunction against the use of police force, including spraying chemicals, when it does not serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

(3). When I spoke with Deputy Chief Boyd Long at the City Council protest [who I have known since he was a cop on the beat and I was editor of a newspaper by and for the homeless], he agreed to an interview and said if I can bring enough statements, video links and photos, he would hold an internal affairs investigation of his officers. I told him that based on my 12 years of covering the San Diego Police Department, the behaviors of some of his officers was pure punitive actions, in retribution for the protestors firm belief in the right of assembly and peaceful protest and that they targeted vocal, young people as punishment.

Now, I am not holding my breath that such an inside investigation would be very fair [I am still waiting for the results of an internal review of the murder of young Jacob Faust – – in 2005 by a cop who had a grudge against him, which was promised to me by Chief Lansdowne during an interview that year]. Lansdowne is a political stooge, hired by the San Diego Oligarchy to protect its wealth and power. However, if we gather enough documentation and present it to boththe SDPD Internal Affairs and the police review board (a useless group of political hacks who act as cover for police abuse, without any subpoena or investigative power (even if it wanted to) and they do nothing; we can present all that evidence to the State Attorney General, Kamala Harris, who has shown some support to the Occupy movement. So please, e-mail any statements, links to videos, photos or any other information to Hellen Villines, Secretary of the San Diego Renters Union, at helenvillines@gmail.com


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