Before Minneapolis, New York, Louisville, Atlanta, and Ferguson, there was Oakland. Oakland has always been a magnet for radicals, its seemingly endemic poverty ripe for social activism and civil unrest.
In the 19th century, longtime Oakland resident Jack London gave the city its first famous activist. It was the birthplace of the Black Panthers movement in the 1960s, and it was the base for the Hells Angels in the 1970s. It was also the scene of waves of protests after the death of Oscar Grant on a train platform in 2009. And it’s also where the term “Black Lives Matter” was coined in 2013.
Yet social turbulence is only a small part of what police have had to deal with. Illegal drugs spewed money and violence into the streets, contributing to crime statistics that are among the highest in the United States.
Police saw themselves as involved in an “us-or-them” struggle, and they were determined to prevail—sometimes by any means necessary, provoking confrontations and creating a department culture that stood apart from the people they were supposed to protect.
With 400,000 residents, the city of Oakland has long been a stage for conflict between its police force and parts of the community. The city had long been known as a stomping ground for radical activists, matched in their aggression by one of the most brutal police forces in the country.
But the recent death of a George Floyd in police custody nearly 2,000 miles away, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has spurred Civil Rights Attorneys, John Burris and Jim Chanin, to continue to take a closer look at how policing is and has been done in Oakland.
In 2000, when a 21-year-old named Delphine Allen alleged that police brought him to a remote location and beat him while he was in handcuffs; he described being dragged under a freeway overpass and hit repeatedly on the soles of his feet with police batons.
The Riders case, as it came to be known, grew to include at least 119 plaintiffs—the vast majority of whom were people of color—all with similar complaints and stories of abuse.
In 2003, the department paid nearly $11 million to settle more than 119 allegations that a group of corrupt Oakland police officers, known as the Riders, conducted false arrests, manufactured evidence and brutalized suspects. Those victims were represented by Oakland Civil Rights attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin
The more lasting impact of the Riders case, however, is a legal and judicial marathon now in its 18th year that has required the intervention of a district court judge, two outside monitoring teams, a compliance director, six police chiefs, four mayors and tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. The goal of it all has been to reinvent the police department—to prevent another Riders case from ever happening again.
An independent monitor stepped in to oversee wide-ranging departmental reforms. But the reforms flopped—so much so that in 2012, after the city paid out millions more to settle additional cases, the federal courts prepared to step back in. Oakland’s cops, a legal advocate for victims of police abuse said at the time, might just be “the worst department in the country.”
Officer-involved shootings were frequent, and often fatal. Complaints of beatings, shakedowns and unwarranted arrests were rampant and cost the city dearly. All told, from 2001 to 2011, Oakland paid some $57 million for claims, lawsuits and settlements involving alleged misconduct by the Oakland Police Department—not just the largest sum paid by any municipality in California, but more than double what San Francisco, with roughly twice the population, paid in the same time frame. The police force seemed broken… brutal beyond repair.
Jim Chanin and John Burris, have in the years since become the department’s most vocal and strident watchdogs.
As part of the settlement, the city compelled the police to accept what’s known as a “Consent Decree”, a bureaucratic purgatory during which the department had to implement a series of institutional changes to improve its policing tactics.
Failure to do so would result in the OPD being placed into federal receivership, meaning the federal government would take over the city’s police department. Change in the Oakland Police Department has been slow. For the past 18 years, a federal monitor has overseen efforts to reform the police as part of the police misconduct case settlement. In 2016, Oakland voters created a non-elected, volunteer citizen board to review police disciplinary cases and recommend policy changes.
In this Insider Exclusive, “Justice in America” Network TV Special Edition, “Oakland, Calif – A Model of 21st Century Policing”, our news teams visit with John Burris, at the Law Offices of John Burris, and Jim Chanin, at the Law Offices of James B. Chanin, the Oakland’s Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong and one of the original 2003 Riders case plaintiffs, Jameel Harriel to explain how a close and constant monitored vigilance over the Oakland Police Department has and is still achieving meaningful reforms.
As an example of those reforms:
Uses of force between 2012 and 2017 dropped 75%;
In 2017, there were 19,185 discretionary stops of African Americans, and
In 2018 there were just 10,874 stops of African Americans.
Officer-involved shootings and lawsuits for excessive force have also drastically decreased; Oakland’s “stunning turnaround” from paying $57 million in damages for excessive force or wrongful death between 2000 and 2010 to just $3 million in the last five years has been widely lauded in the local press.
All of these achievements were accomplished with no compromise to officer safety and no causal increase in crime, and continue under the leadership of Oakland’s Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong.
Through John Burris’s and Jim Chanin’s vision and guidance, their activism has become the model for citizens and police reform advocates nationwide, and have received increased attention, given the recent public focus and outcry about police practices in this nation.
You can contact John Burris @ https://johnburrislaw.com/ 510 839 5200 & 310 6017070 and Jim Chanin @ http://www.jimchanin.com/ 510-848-4752