Anger Seethes Over Oakland Police Shootings of Allegedly Armed Suspects

Oakland police have shot and killed three allegedly armed suspects since June. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

Oakland police have shot and killed three allegedly armed suspects since June. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

By Alex Emslie
KQED

More demonstrations are planned in Oakland Friday following the third fatal officer-involved shooting in the city this summer. All suspects killed in Oakland since June were black men; all were allegedly armed.

Oakland officials are considering whether to release video captured from officer-worn and surveillance cameras that reportedly shows the man shot and killed Wednesday advancing toward police with a gun raised.

“We are meeting right now to discuss an appropriate policy,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told KQED Thursday. “Transparency is so important and as we have these new tools like chest camera footage, it is an opportunity for us to add more information, but we have to balance that with sensitivity to the families involved, as well as the due process and investigatory confidence that we have in this process.”

About 100 people took to the streets and freeway off-ramps in Oakland Wednesday night following the shooting. Protesters briefly blocked Interstate 980, and there were scattered reports of vandalism.

Cat Brooks, founder of the Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project and a member of Black Lives Matter Bay Area and the Black Power Network, was at the scene shortly after the shooting, but neither she nor her organization took part in protests later in the evening.

“There is no justification for OPD to have killed this man,” Brooks told KQED Thursday. “As usual, our Mayor Libby Schaaf is taking the side of law enforcement over the people.”

Schaff said she respects that people want to bring up “the issue in general,” but that the individual circumstances of each shooting are also important.

“Our current evidence does show that this man was approaching our officers with a gun which was found to be loaded,” Schaaf said, adding that Oakland Police Department has been an “active player” in the national conversation on racial inequity in the criminal justice system and police use-of-force.

“We always encourage people to not just look at the national conversation, which is so important, but to look at the particular facts,” she said.

Oakland’s most recent officer-involved shooting occurred on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death sparked nationwide calls for accountability when law enforcement officers use deadly force and became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Police shot and critically wounded an 18-year-old man in Ferguson Aug. 9, the anniversary of Brown’s death. He was allegedly armed with a handgun and fired on plainclothes St. Louis County police officers.

Reuters reports protests in the city, now renowned for fatal police use-of-force, have calmed since the county police department released surveillance video seeming to show Tyrone Harris Jr. pulling a handgun from his waist before charging across West Florissant Avenue — a street now famous for heavy-handed crowd control.

Wednesday’s officer-involved shooting in Oakland began when police pursued a vehicle reported to be involved in an armed robbery in late July, according to the department. The pursuit started at 69th Avenue and International Boulevard in the mid-afternoon and ended near the corner of 27th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, where the suspect crashed his car into another vehicle.

The deceased man has yet to be officially identified, pending confirmation of his name and notification of relatives, police said Thursday.

Armed with a handgun, the man fled the vehicle on foot and attempted to carjack another vehicle, according to the department, then ran from approaching officers.

Officers shot him after confronting him again. The man was discovered with a loaded, stolen handgun that had not been fired, according to OPD. Accounts differ on whether the man was running from officers when he was shot, or whether he was raising the gun and pointing it at them.

“While there were conflicting reports on whether or not the brother had a gun, what everyone was uniform on was that he was running away from police and was shot in the back,” Brooks said. “If someone is running away from you, they cannot then be a threat to you.”

SFGate reports an attorney for the Oakland Police Officers Association and another witness say video footage shows the man advancing toward officers with a gun.

The Oakland Police Department said in a statement Thursday afternoon that a preliminary autopsy report found that “the bullets entered the front of the man’s body.”

In the wake of Wednesday’s shooting and protests, department and city leaders have noted a steady decline in overall use-of-force and deadly incidents over the past several years — while the OPD has been under the close watch of a federal judge and court-appointed monitors.

Schaaf said the department has seen a 70 percent reduction in overall use-of-force in the last four years, and a 60 percent reduction in citizen complaints since 2012, citing enhanced training and new policies that discourage high-speed vehicle pursuits and some foot pursuits.

“Clearly these reforms are having an impact, but we need to continue to do more to improve that relationship of trust between our police force and the community,” she said. “We recognize that there have been serious harms and damage in the past and that we have to do a lot to rebuild that trust and convince the community that these reforms are sustainable — that they are sincere and authentic.”

Brooks doesn’t see a new-and-improved OPD, and she said people passing by Wednesday’s crime scene don’t see it either.

“It wasn’t, ‘What happened?'” she said. “It wasn’t, ‘Is everyting all right?’ The first thing that came out of almost every single car that stopped was, ‘Did OPD kill somebody else?’ These are not activists or organizers, these are just average folks who live in the town and are really clear about the egregious history of OPD.”

The Anti Police-Terror Project plans a vigil Friday at 6 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 27th street.

Alex Helmick, Zaidee Stavely and Adizah Eghan of KQED contributed to this report.

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