Illustration by Matt Boblet.

For too long the city of Oakland has been synonymous with violent crime and police brutality. The FBI recently ranked Oakland the most dangerous city in California, according to The Huffington Post. With 15.3 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2010, the city has one of the highest crime rates in the country.

On Oct. 25, Oakland police violently dispersed hundreds of demonstrators occupying Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland and destroyed their encampment. Flinging tear gas canisters into the crowd, shooting “less-lethal” projectiles, and clearing out tents, police forces allegedly put one man in critical condition, injured several others and arrested about 80 protesters.

Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, was rushed to the emergency room on Tuesday after allegedly being struck by a police projectile that fractured his skull and caused other head injuries. His condition has improved and he is expected to make a full recovery.

The Oakland police adopted a Crowd Control Policy in 2003 as a result of an anti-Iraq War protest. The policy prohibits the department from firing “less-lethal” projectiles “indiscriminately against a crowd or group of persons even if some members of the crowd or group are violent or disruptive.”

It has become apparent that Oakland police broke this rule.

According to The Bay Citizen, Oakland police “requested 500 officers from at least 17 agencies to help with its response to the Occupy Oakland movement.”

While the Oakland police denies using rubber bullets, YouTube videos, photographs and witnesses have confirmed their use. With so many agencies present, it is likely that communication between departments broke down.

Nonetheless, Mayor Jean Quan and the Oakland Police Department must take responsibility for their actions. The police’s violent treatment of Occupy protesters was abhorrent. It is time we stop thinking about Oakland as a place of inevitable crime and start upholding the basic civil liberties of individuals participating in peaceful protests.

On Oct. 26, roughly 2,000 Occupy Oakland supporters gathered downtown to bear witness to police violence against demonstrators that occurred the night before. Yesterday, Occupy Oakland gathered for a day of action.

Historically, Oakland residents and their police have clashed frequently. Police actions have been continually scrutinized by the Oakland community, and controversy over particular cases at times pick up international attention, as is the case now.

In 2003, Oakland police opened fire on an anti-war protest with beanbag bullets, wooden dowels and sting-ball grenades, according to the Los Angeles Times. Consequently, the city paid over $2 million in settlements to injured protesters and enacted new crowd control policies.

In an open letter to the citizens of Oakland dated Nov. 1, the Oakland Police Association explained that dispersing protests has been necessary in past situations where the demonstrators became violent.

“We performed the job that the Mayor’s Administration asked us to do, being fully aware that past protests in Oakland have resulted in rioting, violence and destruction of property,” according to the letter.

However, the Occupy Oakland encampment was assembled peacefully when police arrived. Mayor Quan was in Washington, D.C. at the time of the raid. Throughout the letter, the police association expresses confusion regarding “mixed messages” sent by the mayor’s administration.

According to the letter, “the Administration issued a memo on Friday, October 28th to all City workers in support of the ‘Stop Work’ strike scheduled for Wednesday [Nov. 2], giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off.

That’s hundreds of city workers encouraged to take off work to participate in the protest against ‘the establishment.’ But aren’t the mayor and her administration part of the establishment they are paying city employees to protest? Is it the city’s intention to have city employees on both sides of a skirmish line? It is all very confusing to us.”

The letter also cites a message that was sent to all police officers: “Everyone, including those who have the day off, must show up for work on Wednesday. This is also being paid for by Oakland taxpayers. Last week’s events alone cost Oakland taxpayers over $1 million.”

Mayor Quan and her administration have explaining to do and reform to make. The Oakland police were ordered to disperse the crowd, but they didn’t have to treat the occupiers with such disregard for their well-being. That was the choice of each individual officer.