Rally to Defend the Oakland 25
By Howard Keylor
On November 7, nearly 200 people rallied in front of the California Superior Court in downtown Oakland. The rally was called to demand that the charges be dropped against the 24 antiwar protesters and longshore union official Jack Heyman and for the right to protest in the port. The 25 defendants, known as the Oakland 25, were arrested after police, without provocation, attacked antiwar protesters and longshoremen in the port on April 7. The New York Times has called this demonstration the most violent confrontation in the U.S. during the Iraq war. In fact, most of the demonstrators and longshoremen, who work at the terminals that were being picketed by the antiwar protesters, were shot in the back, indicating that they were fleeing the riot police, not confronting them. Film footage of the major TV stations documents this chilling fact.
The rally was fired up by angry ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Trent Willis who said as a black man driving his car in Oakland, hes more terrified of the police than of any criminal. And the unions former Secretary-Treasurer Clarence Thomas, just returned from a labor delegation tour of U.S.-occupied Iraq, chastised the police for making Oakland look like Baghdad. Local 10 Business Agent Jack Heyman, one of the defendants, characterized the attack by the police, not as a riot but as an assault planned at a secret, prior meeting between maritime employers, members of the Port Commission and the Oakland Police Department (OPD). A representative of one of the picketed maritime companies, American President Lines, admitted that such a meeting had taken place.
Speaking also were the lawyers Jim Chanin and John Burris who had successfully sued the OPD for millions of dollars in the notorious Riders case in which the judge ordered the cops to refrain from further racist behavior directed against blacks. They underscored that the police continue their brutal attacks despite any court order. ACLUs Mark Schlossberg also spoke to the need to control the police. Others spoke from the workers, antiwar and student movements. Mike Smith, one of the Berkeley 3 victimized by the UC Berkeley administration for organizing antiwar protests on campus, called for the unity of workers and students in fighting this war and oppression.
The courtroom was filled to an overflow crowd of supporters. While the judge had earlier ordered the charge of disturbing the peace to be dismissed as being too general, he did allow the District Attorneys office to add a new charge of creating a public nuisance. One of the defense lawyers, Bobby Stein, correctly and vociferously objected to that additional charge as being vindictive. Some of the charges remaining against the defendants are: disrupting a business, failure to obey a police officer, resisting arrest and trespassing on private (i.e. port) property.
There is nothing in the charges about disrupting the war machine or the protesters chanting, This war is for profit, workers can stop it. That would be too blatant an attack on free speech.
The key courtroom fight took place over the DAs office continued refusal to comply with the judges order to turn over to the defense documents and police records which will show that the Oakland 25 are innocent and that once again it is the Oakland police who are guilty of an unprovoked attack; this time on demonstrators expressing their First Amendment rights and longshoremen observing the picketing. The courtroom charade will continue on January 9, 2004, the date for the next pre-trial hearing. Clearly, the scales of justice are tilted toward those with wealth, the international corporations who profited from the Iraq war.
As the ILWU learned long ago, defense of democratic and trade union rights will be won by mobilizing on the streets and on the docks, not in the courtroom.
Howard Keylor is a Local 10 ILWU retiree. For up-to-date information on the defense campaign, log on to www.defendilwuba.com.