I will soon be submitting the following to the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, the Office of the Chief of Police, and to the Office of the Mayor. I am also exploring strategies to get it directly into the hands of police officers. I believe that the most effective change comes when we struggle for each other rather than against each other. It is in this spirit that I am advocating for police officers to have rights that specifically protect their relationship with their communities against the control and influence of privatized corporate interests.
I invite and welcome input from other Occupiers and Oakland residents. I hope that this will eventually emerge as a document with the support of our General Assembly and of the broader Oakland community. Anyone interested in pursuing this vision with me can leave a comment to this post and I will find a way for us to connect as a group to further the vision.
October 26, 2011
Open Letter to All Police Officers Currently Serving in Oakland, California:
Every one of you took an oath of office to protect and serve the people of your communities. I have faith that you meant that oath. To swear one’s word is a powerful act not to be taken lightly. I respect anyone who steps forward into the difficult and at times dangerous role of protecting and serving the public. As a participant in the Occupy Oakland movement who spent many long days at the camp in Frank H Ogawa Plaza, where we maintained a police-free zone, I know first-hand that yours is not a simple or easy job. Your job asks that you justly address the symptoms of social dis-ease without being able to address the systemic root causes. I ask that you take the time to consider how the current protests support you.
The Occupy movement is mobilizing people around the world to address the root causes of social dis-ease. We are mobilizing to re-establish the peace that has been disrupted by corporate profiteering. In this, our struggle includes you, your rights, and your oath. Peace requires that our communities have the resources to employ ourselves; house and feed ourselves; educate our population; recreate, celebrate, and worship together safely; and support our public servants and the services they provide with our taxes and with our actions.
Our own police force is being laid off and stripped of benefits, our jobs have been shipped overseas in the name of “free trade,” our housing has been stolen by banks through deceit, our seniors have been defrauded of their retirement investments, and our children are being stripped of education opportunities through school and library closures. We have been too impoverished to replenish the city coffers to support our own public services and facilities. Why? Because the wealth that we have generated as common working people is trickling – no, it’s flooding – not back to us, but upward to the 1% of the population.
Our commonwealth – yours and mine – has been privatized by that same 1%, and that very fact is a threat to your job, to the public peace, and to your ability to fulfill your oath with honor, with integrity, and with humanity. Our ability to create and sustain our own common wealth is on the line. Your job, as a public servant, is therefore also on the line.
I believe in the fundamental right of police officers to uphold their oath of office to protect and serve your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your colleagues – with honor, integrity, and humanity. I also believe that you have the responsibility to demand a change in the situation that currently puts you at odds with your oath. You should not have to choose between your personal integrity and your job.
I believe that Oakland police officers have rights that must be supported by the community and by our public offices. I believe that you, as a police officer, have the moral obligation both to demand and to exercise your rights, just as we are demanding and exercising our rights as citizens. When you are stripped of your rights, so, too, are we. Yesterday’s events testify to this basic truth.
I don’t know how to support your rights unless you also take a stand for them. I am submitting to you a vision that I hope you each will take up and improve. I can’t force this vision for your rights on you. All I can do is try to understand why you are even in the position of teargassing and injuring peaceful protestors as part of your job, and do my best to get rid of the long-standing problems that put you in that position. When corporate contributions to police departments threaten to turn our public servants into private security forces and our community is too impoverished to support you with our tax dollars … we have no choice but to use the powers left to us – our bodies, our voices, and our solidarity. I ask you to stand with us for change. I ask that you take down the barricades that divide us. Please do not lose this precious moment, as it may not come again.
In closing, I give you my blessings for peace and health in this difficult time, as I do for my fellow protestors. I pray for your body, mind and spirit to remain strong and whole and unharmed. May we never have the opportunity to mourn each other; may we heal the divisions that have been imposed between us.
In hope, and with respect,
Vision for the Rights of Oakland Police Officers
The following rights flow from the fundamental right of Oakland police officers to uphold their oath of office to protect and serve the people of their community with honor, integrity, and humanity. In support of this fundamental right, Oakland police officers have the responsibility to demand and exercise the following:
- The right to exercise sound judgment in acting in the interests of the people, business and property that truly reside in your community, and in doing so, to defend us against interests that seek to impoverish, divide and destablilize these same communities
- The right to organize politically without threat of punishment from your employer;
- The right to a formal process for you to conscientiously object to any orders or job requirements that cause you to betray your oath to protect and serve the people of your community, and to have your objections addressed transparently with the support and involvement of your community;
- The right to participate in a Truth and Reconciliation process in the event of a heinous act committed either by or against you, as a pathway toward personal and community recovery and healing from that act;
- The right to offer community members assistance, mediation and support referrals in place of force;
- The right to substantial and ongoing training in non-violent conflict resolution methods, including those provided from community organizations;
- The right to preventative and responsive psychiatric and spiritual counseling for job-related stresses, including anger, guilt, helplessness, confusion, hostility and violence;
- The right to develop relationships with and to work directly with community members and organizations in order to build peace and unity within our communities and across our city;
- The right to work directly with other social service organizations in order to improve your ability to serve and protect people who are suffering from and expressing the symptoms of social dis-ease, including homelessness, addiction, abuse, poverty, environmental injustice, post-traumatic stress disorder, illiteracy, and prejudice;
- The right to formal mentoring relationships between junior officers and retired or senior officers who have demonstrated outstanding community service;
- The right to accept corrective feedback and complaints from your communities, and to make formal recommendations to your department for appropriate responses based on your relationship with and understanding of your community;
- The right to community support and recognition when you fulfill your oath of office, and to our admonishment when you do not;
- The right to be relieved of your duties when you are unable to perform them any longer.