Oakland Under Arrest: Policing the Police

A Brief History of the Oakland Police Department

First Oakland Police Officers recruited from the deep South.

Police brutality in Oakland, California is a reality that goes unaddressed far too often. Understanding the origin of police brutality in Oakland, requires starting with the history of the Oakland Police Department, which was formed in 1853.

During WWII, many African Americans relocated to the North and West to escape from the violence of the segregated South. Many came to Oakland in pursuit of work in the shipyards and became gainfully employed. Simultaneously, the city recruited whites from the deep south to join the police force and help manage the increased population. They brought with them skills used in the south to enforce segregation, exactly what African Americans sought to escape. From these two opposing views of citizenship, one of radical activism among African Americans and one of brutal force by the Oakland Police Department, a foundation of police brutality developed.

The published mission statement of the OPD is to "provide the people of Oakland an environment where they can live, work, play and thrive free from crime and the fear of crime." However, the mission statement is not equally granted to all Oakland citizens. Since the 1979 murder of fourteen year old Melvin Black and those murdered before him to Oscar Grant and those murdered after him, Oakland citizens are demanding justice and freedom from police brutality.

Rooted in brutality, distrust and scandal, OPD is functioning under the supervision of the court. According to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, he "remains in disbelief" that the department has failed to adopt the reforms. Additionally, the -East Bay Express- reports that federal court-appointed investigator, Edward Swanson said "Oakland’s process for disciplining police officers accused of wrongdoing is a broken and inadequate system that has evaded the public’s scrutiny for too long.” Swanson concluded, “There has not been a culture of accountability regarding police discipline in Oakland."

Twelve years after being demanded to reform, The OPD has yet to reach 100% compliance.

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Stacy Johnson, “Oakland Under Arrest: Policing the Police,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed October 16, 2018, http://streetstoriesoakland.com/items/show/40.

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