Seminary of the Street

Open Letter to the OPD
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Written in the context of Occupied Oakland 2011-2012

Okay, so this is going to be controversial, but it comes out of ongoing heartbreak I am experiencing at Oscar Grant Plaza. I am appalled at the way the city is treating peaceful protesters via the police force and enraged at the long history of police brutality in this city, which I now witness up close in my West Oakland neighborhood and at the plaza. At the same time, I believe the "f*ck the police" slogans in response to this, while useful in expressing the rage, miss the mark, actually distract the anger from its proper targets, and conflate institutions with individuals. So I have written an open letter to the OPD that tries to express some nuance. I've sent it to the department by email and to individual sergeants by mail and will give out copies to individual officers as I can. Comment away.

 

January 3, 2012

 

Dear Officer of the Oakland Police Department,

 

I want you to know that I don’t hate you. I am very angry with the institution for which you work, but I don’t hate you. I imagine I might even like you, if we were to meet on your day off. Often, when we are squared off with each other on Broadway during an Occupy Oakland march or at Oscar Grant Plaza where I spend most days praying and talking with people at the Interfaith Umbrella, I find myself wishing we had a chance to talk as human beings. It seems the city is determined to do everything it can to keep that from happening, including putting you in heavy riot gear and bulletproof visors that all but shield your face from view.

 

I also want to say that I know you don’t issue your own orders. I’m pretty sure that if you did, we wouldn’t be battling over Port-a-Potties or tipis or access to the giant mud puddle that used to be Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza.

 

Likewise, I suspect that you probably do not intend to kill and disproportionately incarcerate my black and brown brothers, that you, like me, are a product of a racist society that associates young brown and black men with crime and danger, that considers nonviolent drug offenses to be punishable crime when corporate extortion of money from poor people is not, and that places greater value on the preservation of the property of a few than on the flourishing of the many. You and I have both been duped.

 

I know that much of what you are being asked to do is beneath your dignity, that some of it violates your integrity, and that you are doing those things because they are part of your job, and like any other person who isn’t part of the 1%, you need your job. It’s not like I have another one in my back pocket to offer you.

 

But that is what we need to be working toward. If those of us who are acting in resistance to you right now are serious about our convictions, then we need to be creating the means for you to refuse your orders, risk your job, and not go hungry. I want you to be able to walk away when you are ordered to do something that doesn’t feel right to you. I want you to know that.

 

And I also want you to understand that we are all being played here. You and I should be working together to create a shared way of life that works for everyone. We should be gathering to unlearn all the lies we’ve been taught about each other, including the lies about race and class. But instead we are being positioned by powerful, wealthy (and frightened) people to fight each other so that they can keep what they have. It makes me very angry, and sometimes I take that anger out on you because you are the person who is in front of me. They, after all, do not come down into the streets when we are occupying them. They send you, instead. Anyway, I want you to know it’s not personal.

 

When you were arresting me in front of the interfaith tent on November 14, I was singing with my colleagues “We’ll walk hand in hand/ We’ll walk hand in hand/ Oh, deep in my heart/I do believe/that we’ll walk hand in hand one day.” I just want you to know that, corny as it may sound, I meant it, and I am working as hard as I can to get us to that day. I hope you will work alongside me in whatever way you can.

 

Sincerely,

 

Nichola Torbett

Seminary of the Street and the Interfaith Tent @ Oakland

Copyright Seminary of the Street 2012