The Oakland School Police Department was the target of a protest today, as more than 100 marched to the department’s headquarters. The small department is devoted to patrolling and policing Oakland public schools.
The protest group converged at the Oakland Police Department headquarters at 7th and Broadway, and several family members of young people killed by police officers spoke.
Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District Tony Smith sent Oakland School Police officers to shut down a sit-in and free school at Lakeview Elementary school July 3. Protesters say officer Barhin Bhatt, who issued the dispersal order at the Lakeview sit-in, should not be working in the schools; he is one of two Oakland School police involved in the killing 20-year-old student Raheim Brown last year.
“They’re no better than anyone else who’s out on the street, killing people,” Brown’s mother, Lori Davis, said at the rally.
Brown was in a car with a friend, Tamisha Stewart, when he was shot to death. He was shot in the head and chest. Stewart, the only civilian witness, was beaten and jailed for a week.
Police say the car was stolen and that Brown tried to stab one of the officers with a screwdriver.
Stewart recounted her experiences at the rally. “Seeing my friend get killed for no reason, and calling for help and me not being able to do anything. Being beaten, eyes swollen shut, for no reason. I’m living with the memory every day," she said. “We need more people to come and stand with us, because we can’t do it alone. We have single parents, mothers without children, fathers, brothers without their brothers and sisters.”
Brown's young son and his mother were also present at the protest.
“Of course people make mistakes. And Raheim made mistakes, ” another protester, Jabari Shaw, said through a megaphone. “But what happened to him was police terrorism. What happened to him was murder.”
The group marched to the Oakland School Police headquarters at the former Cole Middle School in West Oakland. On the march, protesters chanted “justice for Raheim Brown” and carried banners that read “jail killer cops” and “stop school closures.”
At the Oakland School Police department headquarters, the group continued to rally. One protester, Jeremy Miller, expressed anger that Cole Middle School had been closed and the building turned into a police station. Earlier this month, the school district closed five elementary schools in order to save about $2 million.
“They don’t have enough money to keep schools open, but they have the money to police our schools,” Miller said. “We know that our children are safer with no police in their schools.”
Another speaker noted that Cole Middle School had an innovative restorative justice program in place, an alternative to zero-tolerance policies. The program cut down on suspensions by 87 percent.
“I feel like the police shutting down a school that had a model restorative justice program is a slap in our faces,” she said. “This was such a wonderful program, and it could have been copied and duplicated and modeled all across our city”
Sgt. Bhatt was appointed interim chief of the Oakland School Police Department in August after the previous chief Pete Sarna resigned. Sarna had been accused of making racially disparaging remarks about other police officers while drunk after a golf tournament.
Bhatt has been acquitted of wrongdoing by Alameda County prosecutors. But now Brown's death, as well as Sarna's racist remarks, are the subject of a federal grand jury investigation of the Oakland School Police Department. The department received a letter from the FBI May 17 announcing that they as well would be looking into the police force.
“I’m so grateful that the federal grand jury got involved,” Davis said at the rally. She told of dealing with the Oakland Police Department the morning after her son's death.
“I called down to OPD to find out what happened,” Davis said. “They gave me the runaround. They didn’t want to tell me. And then when they finally did say something, they said that the police killed my son. I was in shock. And they said, oh no, it’s not OPD, it’s not us. It was the school police. That’s not our department, we’re two separate divisions.”
Davis said that she had been denied victim compensation and other services usually offered to families of crime victims since her son's death had been caused by a police officer. A community effort was launched to raise funds for Brown's burial. But Davis hopes that the government will bring her family some justice.
“I’m praying that the federal grand jury," along with, Davis said, her attorney John Burris, "will get justice for little Raheim.”