Police fire on longshore workers, anti-war protesters in Port of Oakland
Longshoremen shot in the back ... "If ever there was a time to implement the ILWU slogan 'An injury to one is an injury to all' it is now"
From the April 2003 newsletter of
ILA Local 273, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
On April 7, 2003 Oakland police, in apparent collusion with maritime companies SSA and APL, launched an unprovoked attack against anti-war protesters and longshore workers. Employers met with police prior to the attack. Some 40 people, including nine longshoremen, were hit with police rounds of rubber and wooden bullets, concussion grenades, and tear gas. Many were shot in the back. One longshoreman was hit six times and a news journalist five times! It was a shocking reminder of the police attack on maritime workers in the Big Strike of 1934
As one longshoremen who was hit said, "The cops gave no warning they were going to fire. It was like '34, all over again." While the police, the city, and the press try to cover-up the assault by calling it a "nonlethal" attack, the fact is that Olaf Holland, a striker in Seattle, was killed by a "nonlethal" tear gas cannister fired by the police in the 1934 attack. The San Francisco Bay Guardian (April 16, 2003) revealed that the manufacturer Defense Technology's 1999 training manual for 'less-lethal weapons' states clearly, "Areas such as the head, neck, spine and groin: shouldn't be targeted unless it is the intent to deliver deadly force." The big lie the police are pushing is that the demonstrators started throwing bottles and rocks.
Those who were there saw the cops begin firing without anything being thrown. It was an unprovoked, premeditated police attack. Lyman Hollis, a Local 10 longshoreman and Oakland resident who spoke at the Oakland City Council hearing the following day on the police violence, called it "an act of aggression, where people were targeted and shot at point blank range." Reportedly, police had targeted longshoremen.
ILWU Local 10 and other ILWU locals have taken stands against the US war in Iraq, and had participated with Harry Belafonte and Congresswoman Barbara Lee in the anti-war march in Oakland, Saturday April 5th. Members have represented the local at anti-war rallies, marches and conferences in the US, France and Britain in the best tradition of the ILWU.
Longshoremen at the gate
On this morning, longshoreman were going to work when they encountered mass picket lines of demonstrators who were protesting first against American Presidents Lines (APL) whose ships carry war supplies and then against Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), which was "awarded" a contract by Bush to run the recently "liberated" (i.e., privatized) port of Umm Qasr, in Iraq.
Jack Heyman was the business agent on duty about 5:20 a.m. Monday when he got a call from a longshoreman that anti-war protesters were picketing at the APL terminal. Shortly thereafter some of the several hundred picketers started moving to the SSA terminal adjacent to the APL dock. Longshoremen had been standing by, awaiting for employer representatives and union officials to discuss the mass picket. The terms and conditions of the ILWU/PMA contract requires the decision of an arbitrator on whether a picket line is bonafide or safe when union officials and employer representatives cannot agree.
Police open fire
A police battalion was rapidly deployed across Middle Harbor Road in front of the intermodal rail terminal. Some police were on foot in full riot gear armed with big gauge shotguns and some were lined up on motorcycles like cossacks on horseback ready to charge. By 7:00 a. m. police had moved across the road in military formation to the APL gate to confront protesters. A police officer then announced from a megaphone that the picket was illegal and ordered the demonstrators to move. Demonstrators then began moving away from that area to join picketers at the other APL gate. One passive protestor in long dreadlocks on rollerskates approached the police line to tell them that all the demonstrators were peacefully leaving. He was immediately surrounded and the first to be arrested.
The police then began marching toward that gate where longshore mechanics were waiting to go to work. Heyman told the men to leave the area because they were in imminent danger. It was clear that the police, with their rifles raised, were ready to attack. No one knew what weapons police had in their arsenal. All the demonstrators were moving from APL and were heading toward SSA. Then police opened up with a volley of fire. By now all of the anti-war protesters had moved to the SSA terminal.
ILWU Local 10 member Billy Kepoo injured in police attack
One cop from across the street fired a concussion grenade shotgun over the heads of a group of protesters at the SSA terminal. The shot made a loud sound and emitted a large plume of smoke. Moments later a succession of shots could be heard. One foreman with nearly forty years on the waterfront said, "The police are overreacting. This was a peaceful protest."
Business Agent Heyman then got a call from a longshoreman at the SSA gate telling him to come quickly that two of our men were down, shot by police. He got into his car and headed to the SSA terminal. Once there he found one longshoreman, Ernie Evans, down in the street in terrible agony after being shot in the back. He was being attended to by his union brothers. It was a living image of the drawing on the sidewalk at our union hall commemorating union martyrs who were shot in the back and murdered by police in the 1934 strike. Another brother, Billy Kepoo, a crane operator was in shock and pain. His hand was bleeding profusely with a splintered bone sticking out of the skin. He had been hit by a "nonlethal" projectile fired from a cop's rifle.
In all five longshoremen were sent to the hospital with shot wounds. Some of the demonstrators had been hit by cops charging them on motorcycles. One of the demonstrators, June Brashares, while sitting in the paddy wagon after being arrested said in her statement "Over the police radio a voice ordered the motorcycle police to go forward and bump them. The line of motorcycles then drove forward as M. Powell (an officer in the passenger seat of the paddy wagon) with much enthusiasm exclaimed yeah, bump them, bump them, bump them!" Brashares later on stated that "Another woman was also put into the section of the paddy wagon that I was in. I could see her arms were scraped badly and bleeding from below her elbow down her arm. She stated that she had been run over by a police motorcycle."
As Heyman tried to drive his car to the other SSA gate to warn longshoremen there that our brothers were being shot, a police officer stopped him. He told the cop that he was a union official on his way to warn the other longshore workers that our members had been shot by the police. The police didn't want to hear it. They were in an attack mode. Three cops dragged him out of his car, threw him face down on the street, beat and handcuffed him. Then they threw him in the paddy wagon without ever telling him why he had been arrested, despite repeated questioning.
Police and maritime employers conspire
The police command center, from where the attack was being directed, had been set up in the intermodal rail yard. It was also the area where those arrested were held. From the prisoners' bus Heyman could see the top dog from SSA's Matson operations, Kevin Mehlberg, and another SSA bigshot in their conspicuous yellow and green company jackets. The Local 10 Longshore Bulletin dated April 11, 2003 reported that the union "received information that port officials, maritime employers and law enforcement officials had met prior to the demonstration to discuss how the situation would be handled." The San Francisco Chronicle (April 8, 2003) reported: "Police said they moved in at the request of shipping company officials who wanted the protesters removed from private property." Since when is the Port of Oakland private property? It is no surprise if SSA was one of those companies in on the planning sessions. SSA was the main culprit in ILWU contract negotiations last year that went for our union's jugular. At the 1993 Pacific Rim Dockworkers Conference held in San Francisco and sponsored by the ILWU, the delegate from Panama reported that a union official was killed while trying to organize SSA's newly-privatized operation there.
Anti-war protester hit in face and neck by lethal police fire
From the command center the 31 arrested, including a 33-year-old man, who was an African American that happened to be walking in the area, and Local 10 business agent Heyman, were driven to Santa Rita County jail. The prisoners weren't released until 1:30 AM, after nearly 18 hours in police custody. One of the first released was a young woman who acted as a legal monitor. She was in disbelief. A law student in San Francisco, she is originally from the Ukraine. She said that in all her years in her home country, she never experienced the abuse at the hands of the KGB that she was subjected to that morning by the Oakland police! The question many asked that day is: When do rubber bullets turn to lead?
Government intimidation: lessons to be learned
This entire coordinated police assault in the port of Oakland was reminiscent of the government threats the ILWU faced during our recently concluded contract negotiations: intimidating phone calls from the heads of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense warning us that troops would occupy the docks if there were any labour disruptions. Government officials threatened they would bust up our union and pass anti-strike laws, now forceful usage of the Port and Maritime Act, HomeLand Security Act, Patriot Act, and other draconian security legislation is used to attack ILWU members, protesters and demonstrators alike.
Outrage and hypocrisy in Oakland
Many in the Bay Area are outraged by this "iron heel" of government repression. Once again the brutality of the Oakland police, already the focus of a lawsuit for their racist "rider" behavior is exposed. Inevitably investigations and lawsuits will follow the cops' indefensible actions.
But the ultimate hypocrite is Democrat Mayor Jerry Brown who, in 1997, before he was elected mayor, joined a protest picket that stopped a ship for 3 and 1/2 days on the Oakland docks in solidarity with the sacked dockers in Liverpool, England. As a result of that demonstration an injunction was issued. The police were called in to clear out the 40 or so pickets, but longshoremen still refused to cross the picket line while being escorted by police like a bunch of scabs. At the time Brown stated, "... people here in Oakland are up for the battle." Now, Brown praises the police in their bloody attack on demonstrators while sitting comfortably in his office drinking spirulina. These phony politicians will do anything to get workers' votes.
This is yet another glaring example of the bankruptcy of the ILWU's, and organized labour's, policy of supporting and funding the Democratic Party. The actions of Mayor Brown and those of Senator Feinstein, (D. CA.) who was the first politician to request that Bush invoke Taft-Hartley against the ILWU during the employer lockout, need to be exposed. The ILWU needs to quit wasting time and money on politicians that serve only the interests of big business. We need to build a labour party and run our own candidates. That's the ILWU's official position that's been tabled.
Labor unions in the Bay Area and indeed unions around the world have been angered by this bloody police attack. The phony charges against the protesters and Jack Heyman, the longshore Union official, must be dropped. Letters of protest have been sent to Mayor Jerry Brown and to the Oakland Police Department (OPD) from the International officers of the ILWU, the Teamsters, the San Francisco Labor Council, the Alameda County Central Labor Council, the 9 million member Brazilian trade union federation CUT and the London-based International Transportworkers Federation, which represents 400,000 dockworkers around the world and the International Dockworkers Council. Also the ILA Local 1422 in Charleston sent a strong message of solidarity to Local 10 pointing out how they faced a similar threat when South Carolina riot police attacked their picket line in January 2000. Many other workers' organizations are continuing to deluge Oakland city officials with letters of protest and letters of solidarity in support of the ILWU.
The trial date for business agent Jack Heyman on trumped up charges of "failure to obey a police officer" is May 7, 2003, during the week of our Longshore Caucus. The hearing will be held at Oakland Municipal Court 661 Washington Street, Oakland.
Action is needed
Republican and Democratic politicians are pushing a common agenda for "free" global trade and fighting a "war on terrorism" that is benefiting the wealthy multinational corporations at the expense of our democratic rights, workers' rights, and environmental concerns. Letter-writing campaigns show support for the union and the protesters, but this bloody attack, more so than the one against the demonstrators of the Neptune Jade in 1997, is an attack against our rights of free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association (the right to have a labour union). It needs to be answered with a powerful response. Work on the docks of the west coast should have ceased for 24 hours as a result of our members being shot by the police and a union officer jailed. It is not too late. A strong message can be sent to the perpetrators of this bloody attack from the ILWU and from organized labour internationally.
Workers must be guaranteed the right to work without our lives being threatened by armed cops ordered by their superiors to indiscriminately assault workers trying to do their jobs. Furthermore demonstrators expressing their constitutional rights to protest must not be subject to life-threatening police attacks for expressing their views. We cannot allow this type of government repression to go unchallenged. ILWU must organize a stop work day of protest. We cannot passively stand-by while ILWU members are shot in an attack by cops with lethal weapons. If ever there was a time to implement the ILWU slogan "An injury to one is an injury to all" it is now!
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