An undercover cop aims a gun at demonstrators in downtown Oakland.
A plainclothes police officer who had been gathering intelligence from protests in downtown Oakland, California, on Wednesday night aimed a gun at demonstrators after he and his partner were reportedly attacked by members of the crowd.
More than a hundred demonstrators took to the streets of Berkeley and Oakland Wednesday evening to protest two separate grand jury decisions, in Ferguson and Staten Island, both of which declined to indict white police officers in the killings of unarmed black men. Perhaps due to the oncoming rainstorm, the protest had a much smaller turnout than earlier in the week, when crowds of hundreds shut down a major freeway.
The Wednesday night scuffle apparently broke out after protesters identified the two plainclothes officers, who were California Highway Patrol agents. The officers made one arrest during the incident, which happened just before midnight, for felony assault on a police officer. Another arrest was made nearby by CHP, though unrelated, for public intoxication.
KTVU reported that one of the demonstrators yelled "Hey, they're undercover, they're cops!" The officers, whose faces were wearing masks in the style of the protesters who tend to incite violence, began walking away. The crowd followed, and one of the officers reportedly pushed a protester aside; the protester pushed the officer back.
In a press conference, Chief Avery Browne, the CHP Golden Gate Division commander, said the man who was arrested had punched one of the officers in the back of the head after pulling off his hoodie, which lead to the scuffle on the ground. A woman, Chief Browne said, also came out of the crowd and kicked the officer in the head. That officer was treated for "soft tissue injuries of the head" and "concussion-like injuries," he said. The woman has not yet been apprehended, though police are working to identify her.
As the crowd was advancing on the officers, one apparently identified himself as police, tried to move the crowd back with his baton and, when protesters didn't respond, drew his service weapon, panning it across the crowd. A reporter on the press call who said she was on the scene disputed that the officer identified himself, however, as plainclothes protocol requires when making an arrest. Michael Short, a freelance photographer who was on the scene, has disputed that account as well.
Once the gun was drawn, the crowd began to disperse and more police arrived on the scene due to a call for assistance made by one of the officers.
There were multiple reports on Twitter that the officers themselves were inciting the crowd to violence. Browne unequivocally denied that accusation, saying the officers were there to gather intelligence on those committing crimes and to protect peaceful protesters.
Crowd quickly turning on each other. Two marchers outed as "undercover cops"#oaklandprotest— Gabrielle Canon (@GabrielleCanon) December 11, 2014
— Gabrielle Canon (@GabrielleCanon) December 11, 2014
The Oakland Police Department released a statement Thursday morning referring all inquiries about the incident to California Highway Patrol. In the statement, the Oakland PD said it had received a request for assistance made by an outside agency. It confirmed on Twitter later that the agency in question was CHP.
Report of an officer in need of assistance draws response near whole foods. Arrest made. #oaklandprotest
The #OaklandProtest pictured man isn't an OPD officer & not an OPD arrest. OPD 1st responded to scene on report from other agency. 1/1
2/2 That outside agency has been notified to provide details and address concerns re#OaklandProtest concerns.
@techieshark Yes, it was a CHP arrest conducted by CHP officers.
Reuters photographer Noah Berger was on the scene and apparently snapped the below photo of the incident. Short, a photographer freelancing for the San Francisco Chronicle took the second image, which shows the officer straight on.
Photo of the year: Undercover Cop Draws Gun on Protesters in Oakland. credit Noah Berger / Reuters pic.twitter.com/AFbylb98f9— Jeff Gang (@jeff_gang) December 11, 2014
Photo by Michael Short, of undercover cop in in #oaklandprotest yday pointing his gun directly at protesters/media pic.twitter.com/cJ2rPPoNbD— Queen (@qaween) December 11, 2014
Wednesday night's demonstrations started off peacefully, but later grew out of hand when a group of people smashed the window of a T-Mobile store and ran off with some of the merchandise, according to SFGate and confirmed by Browne, who was careful to distinguish between peaceful protesters from the few there to engage in criminal acts. Other instances of vandalism were also reported, including the smashing of an ATM screen.
There were about 100 people there when I left. Majority are peaceful, as they have been all night. #oaklandprotest— Seung Y. Lee (@sngyn92) December 11, 2014
Guys, I'm heading back. Witnessed multiple instances of vandalism on Ninth and Franklin. Exhibit A: this ATM. pic.twitter.com/qoHdobVQSi— Seung Y. Lee (@sngyn92) December 11, 2014
"I very much understand … what folks are protesting about," Browne said, while affirming citizens' First Amendment rights to protest. "At the same token, we need to understand that these officers were under attack.”
The officers' use of force is currently being reviewed by the district attorney, Browne said, though the officers were "very controlled, very restrained in what they did.”
Because the officer did not discharge his firearm, he is still on active duty, and CHP has no plans to discontinue use of plainclothes offers at protests. As to whether such officers should be provided with chemical spray, so they have an intermediary option before resorting to a firearm, Browne said that "warrants discussion."
This post was updated with statements from the California Highway Patrol.
Tags: BERKELEY PROTESTS, ERIC GARNER, MISSOURI, OAKLAND PROTESTS, PROTESTS IN FERGUSON, U.S., US & World