The Occupied Oakland Tribune just posted documents obtained as a result of a FOIA request about the People’s Library (properly known as the Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez). This is only a partial response to the request, but already reveals quite a bit of interesting information.
If you missed the story, activists and community members in Oakland took over an abandoned library building, formerly a drug den, and cleaned it up. They filled the shelves with donated books and began planting a community garden outside. They held a potluck and a poetry reading. A Twitter account and Facebook page were set up to share the action with the world. It was the embodiment of what we aim to do – reclaim public space and put it back into use to serve our communities. It was beautiful.
And late that night, Oakland PD raided the library, evicting the activists and their books. It was a massive show of force on the most peaceful group of activists imaginable – volunteer librarians, readers, gardeners, and children. I watched it via livestream in dismay.
The good news is, the library is alive and well, several weeks later. They are not allowed inside the building but continue lending books, teaching classes, and hosting events from the sidewalk. There are police officers stationed to keep an eye on them at all hours, but their enthusiasm has not been dampened in the least. It’s inspiring to behold.
Now we have police emails and documents from the first day of the library’s existence through the night of the raid. More is forthcoming, but you can read the current document release here. I read through them and wanted to highlight some points I found to be particularly interesting.
► The police closely monitor our social media accounts. Hopefully you already knew that. OPD got information from official Occupy Oakland accounts as well as some personal accounts: @cliffpotts, @Federal_flashes, and @Jayron26. Two of those accounts belong to friends of mine here in Chicago. Very odd seeing their tweets and RTs quoted in OPD emails.
YIKES, my friends. I always say to assume the cops read everything, but this is confirmation that they have at least a rudimentary understanding of Twitter. Keep that in mind at all times.
► We sometimes bewilder them with our information-gathering skillz. See this email (from Deputy Chief of Police Eric Breshears): “There are twitter messages that talk about staying all night, which we expected. There are also twitter messages stating that they will need to set off an alarm if we show up. Unfortunately, KGO is reporting that we are issuing a vacate notice. How do you think they know that??”
It’s nice to know that we also have more of a heads up than they would like sometimes.
► They asked for an intermediary. At one point, they requested a civilian representing the city of Oakland to talk to the occupiers before OPD went in. To my knowledge, this didn’t ever happen. Still interesting.
► OPD knows what we look like…or do they? An email from Breshears states, “The crowd has now added what appears to be OO people and Anonymous people.”
REALLY? What do “Anonymous people” look like?? #lulz
► The numbers of officers present were NOT exaggerated. When I heard via Twitter and livestream that there were more than 100 officers present, I was having trouble imagining that. However, we now have an email to confirm it: “We have about 115 officers here tonight. [Approx double the number of occupiers at that point.]” The email goes on to say that if they wait until the next night, they will only have 80 officers available, which I suppose isn’t enough to remove a few dozen non-violent book lovers.
► A crowd of any size or demeanor is seen as a threat by OPD. Ongoing reports about the action list how many are present and that they are calm, peaceful, mostly children, etc. Never is there any indication that the people involved pose any kind of threat to themselves, each other, city property, or the community at large. Any time police made contact with activists, it is noted that there was a spirit of cooperation. It is simply the act of a group of people uniting in a public space with a common purpose that is seen as cause for massive police intervention.
► The police buy into the “unknown agitator” meme. In describing plans for the raid, Breshears writes: “We anticipate that there may be a few agitators there that we will need to deal with, but none are obvious at this time.” Nobody at this action gave OPD any reason to suspect there would be trouble, yet they mention “agitators” several times.
► ASSUME THAT EVERY ACTION IS INFILTRATED. They refer to sending an undercover through the building to assess the situation before the eviction: “About 8-10 in front, confident no more than 8-10 inside, none in back. No kids seen. He is going to see if he can get an under[cover cop] to walk inside and take a look. I let him know only if safe. He will advise in a few.”
All that talk about security culture? This is why. As much as we don’t like to think about it, we are planning actions with cops. We are marching with cops. We have probably had drinks with cops. Be very careful what you say or do, even when you think you’re among trusted friends. It doesn’t take much to charge somebody with terrorism these days.
► They are still reading your tweets. After outlining their plan for eviction, they leave room for contingencies, saying: “This of course can change if tweets go out and numerous people arrive.”
► There is a thing called Operation Dignity. When OPD sent an email requesting No Trespassing signs be posted at the library, this was the response: “Is it empty? If people are present we use Operation Dignity to post and talk to the ‘homeless’ to offer services. If people are there and not homeless then we would need to give signs to OPD to post. Please provide a contact and I will see who will handle this.”
I was not familiar with Operation Dignity, but apparently they are a group of veterans dedicated to helping homeless veterans (and others who are homeless). And it seems Oakland PD is in contact with them to do things like clear vacant buildings of squatters.
This was interesting to me because it’s a tactic that’s been used on us in Chicago, although not by an outside group. CPD will pull up and start asking us if we’re homeless, if we have somewhere to go, and offering to direct us to shelters if necessary. Because that is obviously the only reason for us to be out utilizing public space at nighttime. Now we have a name for it: Operation Dignity.
► OPD is shy. Apparently, they don’t want to be the center of attention. “In the past, OO has tried to make the police the ‘focus of attention'; lets avoid this.”
“Avoid this”…by showing up with 115 officers to evict some books from a vacant building? Or is that code for, “Leave the tear gas at home tonight, boys”?
► The city of Oakland is committed to keeping its vacant buildings empty. Four OPD units are assigned to the library action around the clock – and all four officers are receiving overtime pay for making sure the books stay on the sidewalk and don’t accidentally wind up inside a building built for that purpose…again. When an officer questions the need for four of them to be out there the response from above is: “I think the number is just right to maintain control.”
It sounds “just right” to me.
Two PDF attachments were also included in this document release, which I will now describe.
Letter from City of Oakland Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board
This letter is addressed to “Oakland Leaders and Library Organizers and Participants,” which I found hilarious. I guess it’s hard to know protocol when it comes to writing to a leaderless movement with no established membership.
The letter describes the work that Oakland LPAB does in preserving historically significant buildings in the city and gives a brief history of the vacant Carnegie library. It goes on to say that: “Even protective actions, however well-intentioned, such as securing a building or removing graffiti, can result in damage to historic building materials.”
Apparently they are more concerned with people “damaging” the building by cleaning it than they are with the state of disrepair it has been in for decades. Because it is such an important historic landmark to the city of Oakland…obviously.
Letter from Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana
This letter states that the City of Oakland owns the building and gives permission to Oakland PD to arrest for trespassing (and, presumably, vandalism and related charges). My favorite line: “No one has permission to enter, occupy, or trespass on this property…” Do you think they added “occupy” just for us? One can only hope.