OAKLAND -- The public relations battle to get Oakland's top cop reinstated hit a fever pitch Tuesday afternoon with a public rally in support of Chief LeRonne Armstrong. But the public outcry may actually be proof of how much progress has been made.
The rally in front of the Oakland courthouse was not something anyone could have imagined 20 years ago: members of the Black community rallying in support of the head of the police department.
"Fight, fight, fight, fight!" roared a crowd of about 200, some holding signs saying "CHIEF ARMSTRONG MATTERS."
Armstrong was recently. It was done on the recommendation of court-appointed monitor Robert Warshaw, whose position was created to fight police abuse against minority communities, especially African Americans. But the rally showed how much things have changed.
"We're here today for a very important reason," said African American business leader Greg McConnell. "We know that Chief LeRonne Armstrong has done nothing wrong,"
"For all this time, he's had our back," said Chinatown leader Carl Chan. "But today, it's our turn to say that we have your back!"
"We demand that he be exonerated! We don't want anything ruining his reputation," said Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church. "And when do we want it? When do we want it? We want it now, now, now!"
To understand how remarkable that was, you have to go back to 2003 when a group of four cops - nicknamed,- were on trial for terrorizing Black neighborhoods. They were accused of beatings, false arrests, planting evidence, and racial profiling of African American residents.
"It was pretty horrible. It was as bad as it could get," said civil rights attorney John Burris. "And it was systemic of what was taking place in Oakland."
It was Burris's class action lawsuit that created the negotiated settlement agreement, or NSA, that led to the federal oversight that caused Chief Armstrong's suspension. But Burris himself says things have changed and that Warshaw has now gone too far.
"We are in a better space now than we ever were starting out," said Burris. "And we don't have the beatings that we used to have. We do not have that kind of viciousness among officers. There's a real accountability that occurred."
Burris gave a lot of credit to Armstrong for making that happen.
"He's done a terrific job," said Burris. "He's the one that brought us to this point where we feel comfortable that we're going to get off the NSA and be completed."
Burris said the negotiated settlement he helped create is set to expire in June, adding he hopes Armstrong's suspension will not prevent that. In the meantime, a community that once fought against the cops is now standing up for one.
Armstrong told the crowd he was not going down quietly.
"I'm from West Oakland. I won't pick a fight, but I ain't running from one," said Armstrong. "This is Oakland! If you want to pick a fight with someone, Oakland is the wrong place to pick it!"
So, the fight is on. And while racial relations in Oakland are by no means perfect, against all odds, the head of the police is being embraced by the community as one of their own.
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