Fallout From ‘Occupy Oakland’

Oakland police, suited up in riot gear, cleared anti-Wall Street protesters from the sidewalks surrounding Oakland’s City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 24. The police invasion left a sea of overturned tents, protest signs and trash thrown around the plaza.

The backlash against Oakland PD has been enormous. Wednesday’s Twitter feed was full of people speaking out against how the police handled the situation. Many seemed to think the actions were brutal and excessive.

Most of the criticism has revolved around the injury of U.S. Marine Scott Olsen. Olsen was taken to the hospital in critical condition after he was reportedly shot in the head with a rubber bullet by Oakland officers. He has recovered well, but the outcry against the brutality has grown since the incident.

Oakland PD initially reported that no one was injured in the morning raid. However, once the story of Scott Olsen broke, the city immediately switched to damage control. It is still uncertain which side is telling the truth, but like most stories involving citizens taking on the government, the public tends to side with their own.

The constant media coverage has not made public relations efforts by Oakland officials an easy task. The negative light in which they have been cast has made their efforts nearly futile. After their initial report was proven false, officials compounded their error by immediately making another one. Instead of apologizing or trying to calm the situation, officials defended the extreme tactics used to disperse the crowd.

Oakland officials should accept that they made a mistake and release a public apology. The apology does not have to be for police brutality if they truly feel their officers did the right thing. They should apologize for any harm done to their city’s citizens and reputation. At this point the apology might be too late, but any change in their public relations approach would be more beneficial than how it has been handled it so far.

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4 Responses to Fallout From ‘Occupy Oakland’

  1. caolson says:

    I absolutely believe that the right move for the Oakland police would be to apologize profusely, and possibly even directly, particularly to Scott Olsen. I believe the public have enough distrust in the government and in police as it is, and not issuing a public apology can only worsen that distrust. I believe there are many cases like this one in which police abuse their position of power, and in order to reclaim their image, they need to act quickly, honestly and responsibly, which the Oakland police failed to do in this case.

  2. rsteinga says:

    This entire “Occupy” movement has been really fascinating to watch, in that, it seems that no one really knows what is proper protocol. I read a recent story on AZCentral that the Phoenix protestors were costing the city something like $200,000 because of police overtime, security and sanitation costs. These uncontrolled media stories create another element for PR practitioners on both sides of the line to consider.

  3. ammarty says:

    I think the apology is never too late, but will definitely not be as effective as it would have been immediately after the incident occurred. The Oakland PD definitely has some cleaning up to do and will have a lot to do to make up for what they have done. Their reputation is definitely tarnished and they, if nothing else, can be an example to everyone else in “how not to handle a PR blunder.” The city is also damaged by this, in my opinion, because it already has a bad reputation and this only confirmed people’s stereotypes.

  4. dlkline says:

    I agree with the above post that an apology is never too late. I believe the PR strategy of staying in front of a story rather than playing catch up is the way to go, but sending out a sincere apology would never hurt a situation. People, i.e. Joe Public, want to be heard and want to know their feelings count and matter. This is a basic human sentiment and should be practiced by PR professionals no matter their client. The City of Oakland needs to reach out to Mr. Olsen and the public to show their compassion. At the same time, the Occupy Wall Street protestors need to abide by the law and, I believe, have a more structured protest or protocol or all of their efforts will be for naught if the public begins to turn on them. Good PR goes both ways!

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