Another Police Killing in Oakland, CA

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Another Police Killing in Oakland, CA

This weekend, police killed another man at the same rail transit station in Oakland, California, where 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot in the back last year, a case that resulted in violent clashes this month when the police officer responsible was convicted of only involuntary manslaughter.

On Saturday, Oakland and Bay Area Rapid Transit Police shot and killed 48-year-old Oakland resident Fred Collins, a reportedly Hispanic "looking" man near the Fruitvale station in Oakland.

The first reports, all from the police, said the man was "armed" with two knives. But none of the dozens of officers who answered the call was hurt during the incident.

Though the circumstances of the latest shooting are very different than those in the Grant case, the killing Saturday raises more questions about violent police over-reactions.

An eyewitness, looking out her window said the man was walking backwards yelling for the police to shoot him. According to a television interview of the eyewitness, the man had his hands up.

Ultimately, the man died in a barrage of police bullets from at least five police officers. Police claim they tasored the man several times before he came at them with a pair of knives. Given the number of shooters, it may never be known which bullet killed the man.

Oakland homicide detectives, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office and the internal affairs units of the Oakland and BART police departments launched administrative investigations into the shooting.

The descriptions given by several eyewitnesses do not appear to square with the police account.

"When they turned here at the corner, there was," said the eyewitness who saw the confrontation through her window, who identified herself only as Letty. "I wanna say about 10 policemen, all gathered together and then I saw this man walking backwards, like this, (hands up on both sides), saying 'Shoot me, shoot me, shoot me' and the police,

"I didn't hear none of the police say anything, they were just gathered together, following him while he was walking backwards all the way through that street," she said Letty."And then all of a sudden, I hear a little pop and then right after that I hear 'bup, bup, bup, bup, bup!'"

The BayCitizen reported, according to eyewitness interviews, that the man was wearing two backpacks - one on his back and one on his front, and was shot after he tried to reach inside one. Police say nothing about a back pack..

Fourteen-year-old Florencia Osores told the BayCitizen that she watched the shooting out her window with her family. Osores said she saw about "fifteen" cops in pursuit. The man stopped running and turned around.

"The cops said ‘stop,'" she said, adding that he turned his back to the officers and "looked like he was taking something from his bag." According to the teen eyewitness, that was when the cops opened up with a barrage of fire. "I've never seen the cops versus a person before," she said. "They shouldn't be trying to kill him. Couldn't they have shot him in the leg?"

Ill Prepared for Crisis Intervention

Mesha Monge Irizarry knows a great deal about police overreaction and a lot about the impact of the 50,000-watt tasor, which the police claim was ineffective in stopping the man. Irizarry, who has given courses to the police in non-violent escalation, saw her own 23-year-old son, Idris Stelly, killed in a barrage of 48 bullets in 2001.

"It's a common practice for police to all starting firing at once," Irizarry said. "They know when they shoot together, it's almost impossible to find out who shot first, or whose bullet ended a life."

She said she's extremely suspicious about the police claims that the tasor didn't stop the man or even slow him down.

"There's no such thing as it doesn't have any effect, like the police are claiming. They're full of bull. It's not like a little shock from a faulty circuit. It totally shuts your body down. Many people have died from one application."

James Keys, chair of San Francisco City and County Board of Mental Health, also has doubts about the police claims regarding the tasor having little or no effect. "I find it hard to believe that they shot him like that with tasor several times and he kept going," Keys said.

Keys said the Oakland Police Department has failed "for decades in dealing with situations like this. ... I cannot understand why they couldn't subdue that man without using a kill shot."

Beyond the difficulty of dealing with crisis intervention, Keys said there is a long-term issue of trust regarding the police.

"I grew up in Oakland as an African-American ... and the police have never dealt well" with black and brown people, Keys said. "The prevailing attitude is that white officers kill" people of color.

Mayor Ron Dellums released a statement on Saturday, joining the police and BART officials in urging calm.

"Anytime there is a loss of life, it is a matter of great concern and sadness for us all," Dellums said in his written statement. "It is extremely important that we as a community continue to work together in order to provide a safe and secure environment. Therefore, a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding this death has begun."

However, in the aftermath of the Oscar Grant killing, there is mounting public concern about the police resorting to excessive force.

"People are very scared," local resident Juanna Nieva told one reporter, "I am really worried for kids. People are living in fear in Oakland."

Dennis Bernstein

Dennis Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.

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