This is a full interview with former Oakland Councilmember Wilson Riles, Jr. It was held today just after 3 PM PST / 6 PM EST here on Zennie 62 YouTube Live – then auto-uploaded to Oakland news Now. This is what Former Councilmember Wilson Riles filed as his version of what happened on October 17th, 2020.
Here’s the full, raw, text transcript of our talk on Zennie62 YouTube Live:
Zennie Abraham: Hey everybody hope you’re well. Oh hey how are you?
Wilson Riles – Doing good good how are you.
Zennie Abraham – Awesome. I am actually just quite fine. Hey, I went online I was gonna pre-brief you but I’ll just say that uh as my viewers know this is your platform and I know I have a prepared statement which you know you or I can read for you or you want to read. But I want people to hear your story and I have I got the City of Oakland statement as well but I want people to hear what happened to you okay
Okay let’s just think what happened and first of all I want to say folks, a lot of people
aren’t reporting this as I it should be. This man is history this is legend he is first he is the first true he’s the first African-American ever elected as a public official in California history so just what you keep that in mind Wilson I’m blessed to have you on but what happened what happened to you thank you for the opportunity
Wilson Riles, Jr. – Actually I’m a junior! It was Wilson, my senior, my father, who was elected statewide in California. First person. I’m very proud of that. I took – you know – his reputation.
And actually when I first ran for the City Council, people thought they were voting for him because they wonder why the state superintendent wanted to run for local councils! They supported me, and I got elected, and have been struggling with the issues in other cities for some time.
Wilson Riles Explains What Happened At The Oakland Zoning Department
What happened was that this is essentially the end of a four-year process that my family and I in friends have been having about us doing sweat lodges and community services within the back yard of my own property. That I (and) a very small group of neighbors neighbors unanimous decision in our favor from the Planning Commission. Part of that decision was appealed to the City Council, and the City Council denied that appeal, and accepted the decision of the Planning Commission that we had a right to do what we were doing. And we have met all of the legal and other kinds of requirement.
So I thought it was all over. and then a couple of weeks ago someone from zoning came by indicating that there was a complaint about the ceremonies we were having in our back yard. I don’t know why he didn’t have the knowledge about the decisions of the Planning Commission, and the council had made, but apparently he didn’t. I asked him to go and check that out. Later on, I talked to him on the telephone. He said he had found out that we had a right to do that, but that he was going to require me to get some permits for the temporary structures that we have in our backyard as part of what we are are doing. All of that was also included in the agreement that we had with the Planning Commission of the City Council.
All those structures were put into the design review that we had to submit, but we also agreed that that if there anything that we were doing, or that we needed to do, that required a permit that we would take out a permit before doing that. But the law was very clear, and I hadn’t looked at it early in this process: the temporary structures do not require a permit!
So I was a little upset that at the end of this process, after going all through this, the Zoning Department was still trying to shut us down for something that we had a legal right to do. And I asked them to look at the code; they refuse to do that. I went down to the Zoning Department to meet with this inspector on Thursday morning, again, asking him to look at the code about that requirement – he refused to look at the code!
I was frustrated! I was arguing with him that that wasn’t right and he was supposed to be following the law! He was supposed to be doing something because somebody told him to do it, or some mother complained he was supposed to be looking at the law that he’s supposed to be implementing. He got up, went back to talk to his supervisor, he said.
I said waited for 15 minutes; he came back sat down and said he still hadn’t looked at the codes and he wasn’t gonna look at the codes! So, I, again being very frustrated, you know, told him how ridiculous it sounded. This was that he didn’t bother to actually follow the law he was supposed to be implementing! He stopped talking to me, turned his head away, got up and walked back in the activity area where their was the desk.
I got up. I didn’t push the door. I didn’t push him. I didn’t touch anybody. I didn’t threaten anybody. I walked through the door and told the folks there I wanted to talk to the supervisor, and I stayed there until the supervisor came. We walked back through the door, sat back down at the desk. I talked to the supervisor about the issues that I had, and my concerns that the law wasn’t wasn’t being followed, and he said I’ll get back to you.
So I stood up and started leaving the office and down this narrow hall, and four police officers came up. They were looking around trying to find somebody who was to tell them why they were there, and what they were supposed to do. Apparently nobody did, and so I continued walking, and one of the officers blocked me from leaving. They didn’t say “we’re gonna arrest you” they didn’t say what the charge would be or anything they just blocked me physically blocked me. I tried to move around the person who was blocking me, and he grabbed me and other officers grabbed me, so I’m pushing my arms behind my back.
(The police officers were trying to put cuffs on me – tried to trick me, and didn’t district me, and was also held down on the floor, and they were eventually able to get cuffs on me and they took me out and hustle me down to a cruiser in front of the building. You know, that’s that’s the incident that took place that Thursday morning.
Zennie Abraham – Well, you mean to tell me at no point they didn’t tell you A) why they were there, B) tell you what you were going to be arrested for, C) read you your Miranda rights – no, none of that and then on top of that when you left the office you had…
Wilson Riles – No idea none – when one call was going to be initiated by the city, when I was standing on the other side of the door, someone said “we’re going to call the police” and I said “you know you’re gonna call the police, you gonna call the police” – I want to talk to the supervisor.
Yeah, we have a supervisor came up and so then we went back to the door. Once the supervisor came, so they had indicated that they were going to call the police so they did. There’s just a knee-jerk thing I’ll agree to call the police police – they wanted me to get out of their office – with that officer. They wanted me to leave the office altogether. So here I am making a justified complaint, and their responses was “We’re gonna call the police.’?
Zennie Abraham – And I say that because you know I just have to add that that’s happened to me it happened to me a couple of times and what I did in my reaction was I say well I’m calling the police, too – and I’ll call the police, and please show up! But for the City of Oakland to do this sort of thing and the two gentlemen that did it – one of those Michae Legault, oh yeah and then the other person is a Richard Fielding and right yeah he’s a supervisor and what the City of Oakland released the statement which I’d like your response to:
“We recognize the arrest of former Councilmember Wilson Riles in the Oakland Zoning Department raises deep community concerns. This unfortunate incident invokes two disturbing national realities that weigh heavily on us all – the use of force by police against black men as well as a heightened fear of workplace violence.
Mr. Riles was detained following a 911 call regarding a City employee who reported a hostile man had chased a City inspector into the restricted staff-only area. Mr. Riles was later arrested on suspicion of battery on a police officer.
After reviewing incident reports and Personal Digital Recording Device footage from the involved officers, Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has ordered a thorough Internal Affairs Investigation of the incident, as well as encouraged Oakland’s Community Police Review Agency to conduct an independent investigation. In order to not compromise the integrity of these critical investigations, the City of Oakland will not be releasing further information about this incident until these investigations are sufficiently complete.
An internal affairs investigation has been launched to review every aspect of this incident. Employee safety, and the right to feel secure in the workplace, is paramount to the City of Oakland, as is the right of all African-American residents to feel safe, and free from police bias, which is deeply rooted in this country’s racist history.”
Zennie Abraham – And then one more thing. I’ve known Wilson I think since 1988 and I have never in my entire life – that’s a long time council member – have ever you heard associated with anything like what they’re accusing you of doing. What’s your response? And I’m saying that just straight out as a I’m a blogger, I’m a vlogger, not a journalist, okay? I am not trying to be objective. I have a personal bias because the way I’ve been tree as a black person as well as and in Oakland – what’s your response to this?
Wilson Riles – Well I mean there’s a need to understand that racism rears its head in a number of ways. Clearly, there is individual personal racism, and acts by individuals, but because racism has been around so long in this country and in the city, that it’s also institutionalized. It’s deeply institutionalized in the department and the police department. Part of that is the approach and training that police officers get, I didn’t know how deeply it was also ingrained in the other departments of the city, like the Zoning Department.
So it is there, and it is unconscious in all of us. No matter whether you’re black, white, or whatever, the cultural racism that exists in this country – it is all of us. And that’s why someone who’s African-American who complains about something – is considered to be a threat.
You know, if you’re talking about work force violence, it isn’t mostly African Americans that are bringing about work force violence: bringing guns to their offices and shooting people. That’s mostly white folks.
That’s because I was there standing as a black man and was disturbed and angry about the way that I was being treated. All of a sudden I’m a threat to work force violence? I can’t remember I know what these policies are. I know what’s going on. I was very clear, but I was being unjustly treated, and I wasn’t willing to just go away and accept that. That doesn’t make me a threat to anybody.
– Nope, not at all.
Zennie Abraham – So Libby can’t say she doesn’t have your
number have you heard from the mayor?
Wilson Riles – A few minutes ago like I got a call from the police chief, Anne Kirkpatrick. She wanted to personally tell me that they were dropping all the charges. That’s doesn’t make this to go away – she did her investigation. She knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on. So of course they’re dropping the charges, but that doesn’t change the fact that these institutions were going to treat a whole lot of folks who look like me and otherwise in some totally disrespectful, suppressing ways. And so I’m not through with it. I’m gonna continue. You got to make them change.
Zennie Abraham – Yeah, speaking of which did she offer to fire the officers involved because you were assaulted by them according to what you told us
– No, she didn’t offer that. But I’m taking this before the Planning before the police commission, and so it’s not done.
Zennie Abraham – Oh, by the way, (Oakland Communications Director) Karen Boyd, I texted. I asked if those specific men in the zoning department had any diversity training. Her statement was that all employees receive diversity training.
My response back was “Hey Karen. I want to know if those two specific men had any diversity training? And I asked because – I’ll just be very blunt – I went to what appeared to be the Facebook page of Mr. Michal and of all of the photos he had on his Facebook page, there were no black folks – all white.
And so my thought is, you know, if your associations, if you’re white and your association is only with a white person, and this comes up, what’s in the back of your mind? It doesn’t matter if you like Snoop Dogg or you know Chance The Rapper, or anything. That’s very common in today’s society, you know, for someone white to enjoy hip hop, but then also have some very racist point of views about somebody black. And that’s actually (in the movie) “Do The Right Thing”, right? Pop culture.
So my point is, she didn’t get back to me about an answer about those men, and whether not they had diversity training. And I don’t know what does diversity training anyway? Do you know? How does that go? How is it doing?
Wilson Riles – You know more than once. No this is not a one-time thing, that you can do and correct the problem. Like I say even if someone takes a bit of time to kind of reconsider what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it, and why they are reacting to certain people and one in one way, and those in another. Even if someone goes online and takes one of those diversity tests which bring out your unconscious racism, that’s not the end of the process because you get essentially get flipped back in to a racist culture, and so it starts again.
And to reinforce those kind of racist bad habits and to not deal with that unconscious level, so it’s a constant thing that we have to do and remind one about in every opportunity that it comes up. Even if you’re sitting at a table with all your white relatives and white friends and it comes up.
I would hope that conscious people would respond to that didn’t highlight that so that we can all have a chance to move towards a society that is more egalitarian and loving and sensitive to one another. So that our whole community will be better by what effort you all make in order to make a difference in that regard.
Zennie Abraham – And we’re on with Oakland Councilmember Wilson Wiles – ah, former councilman I would also like your response to this because this is the latest I call the “Zoning While Black”. And the reason why I put it in the “Barbecue Becky” or the “Driving While Black” or that category, is because approximately two months ago there was an incident happening in San Francisco where a black man was waiting on his friend to come down he was trying to go in the fellow stopped him and he didn’t really want to give him all the information in detail. He really was waiting for a friend a white. The man who stopped him was an employee in tech and accompanied with his son and so his son says he’s a nice guy why are you bothering him? And the fellow said “Hey, you’re not gonna answer my question? I’m gonna call the police.”
And I heard it right. And if it isn’t that, then it’s Jennifer Schulte, AKA “BBQ Becky” who’s harassing Kenzie Smith over at Lake Merritt, claiming that she owns Lake Merritt and she paid 5.7 million to buy it – which in and of itself, tells you she’s off her rocker to begin with. And and then basically called 9-1-1 on Kenzie. And I told Kenzie “You should have called the police on her because she’s harassing you for three hours!
So my point is why is it that all of a sudden seems like you have people in Oakland who are using the police as some sort of weapon when they don’t want to hear you?
Wilson Riles – You know it’s like oh I don’t want to hear what you have to say so I’m gonna call the police, right, so I have to assume that at some label, level, maybe unconsciously, people are beginning to recognize the history of this country on them and how they behave, and what they believe, and there’s some unconscious feelings of guilt going on.
I graduated with a psychology degree from Stanford, so I have some insight on this stuff. And it’s very clear that people respond almost without thinking about it because of these feelings that come up and the fear that gets generated by the nature of our culture.
Surely police officers are very clear about that. They see a white man taking a phone out of his pocket and they don’t shoot, but they see a black man taking a phone out of his pocket in the same way, and they shoot without even thinking about it.
Zennie Abraham – Have you heard from the zoning people for an apology? Because, as far as I’m concerned, both zoning office individuals should be made to apologize to you or be fired. And there should be a complete review regarding whether not they actually did undergo diversity training because I person don’t believe they did – that’s me.
Wilson Riles – I will follow up on that with them the council members I haven’t heard anything from the zoning our planning and as well as the mayor…
Zennie Abraham – The mayor really should have called you right off the bat as soon as I gave her your number – that should have been her first call. And I have to say I’m deeply sorry this this happened to you Wilson because I can’t I mean of all the people that would happen to you’re the last person – among the last people – I would even associated with that kind of behavior.
And I think you know it almost seems like also an attack on somebody who’s black and intelligent. All of a sudden it’s like “oh my god your arguments too good, I’m gonna call the police on you,” you know I mean?
Take us back to the real reason for this and it’s you’re trying to build a temporary structure in your own backyard I saw the the photograph of it looks like a harmless thing what’s going on again?
Wilson Riles – I don’t quite get it. It is a very harmless thing. It’s a very – can be positive community thing. It’s a space that has a lot of trees and a lot of plants. We generate a lot of positive oxygen into the atmosphere over here where it’s mostly concrete and cars, so it almost seems like a religious experience to walk on this land and breathe in that oxygen and feel so much more comfortable with yourself and your body, and the birds are singing and folks are really relaxing because here’s a little bit of nature right in the midst of this place with its very little nature where nature is is hardly surviving at all.
So that’s what we have been about. We’ve got a farm. We’ve got the years that you’re so round so it’s not a square structure it’s a little just light on the land so there’s a spirit that comes from that that helps to reconnect us back to the ancestors of this land, The Ohlone, who used to have sweat lodges put thousands and thousands of years before anybody else got here.
And where they were in such a good relationship with this land that when the northerners or folks from the east finally got here they thought this was paradise because the lab and animals of everything we’re in such great harmony because of the care that the alone had given and their prayers that they did in the sweat lodge which the aspects called Timnath cows and even one neighborhood of it’s called a tennis gal and after this religious ceremony
So a yurt – that’s the dome structure right? Right, yeah, and comes from the Mongo – also an indigenous people who were mobile people. So they moved their houses around. They wear these around domes structures that are very comfortable and you know kind of fit in much better with what’s going on.
So we have the yurts and then we have this one neighbor who was a religious bigot who started yelling across this sense that we were pagans and calling as all kinds of nasty racist names attacking my granddaughter.
Zennie Abraham – What?!’
Wilson Riles – On her all kinds of names so that’s where all this started. Again, basically, again what happened with that neighbor – well he had a neighbor, she was, I would, say off her rocker. She was a religious biggot. She was at our personal races individual races. She would be across the fence when my son-in-law would be out in the backyard clearing the you know the bushes and thorns and everything why are you here. You know, acting as if she owned the land, and then calling them all kinds of racist names and then attacked me.
My Wife has as a master’s in divinity and was teaching at the Pacific School of Religion. Some of her students would come over to participate in the sweat lodge ceremony. So as they were coming out of the sweat lodge ceremony, these Christians, she would call them pagan and she’s a Christian and “why are you doing that?” “Stop doing that in our backyard in your backyard” and then calling every department she could think of: Public Health, you know the animal control, the health department, you know?
And then eventually she called the zoning and something responded and zoning came out and tried to find every little thing that they could lay on us to try to stop us from doing things that we had a right to do. I mean it’s like, it’s like when they arrest them by the district attorney, he piles up the charges as high as he can to get you to accept a lesser charge for something that you didn’t do.
Zennie Abraham – So let me get this straight: basically this person – did you mind using your neighbor’s name? Your choice.
Wilson Riles – No she’s not there anymore, Zennie. First name “K” –
Zennie Abraham – But it sounds like basically she calls or zoning and then Zoning comes back and gives us sort of pseudo-intellectual overlay to her racist reasons why she doesn’t want you to be there in other words it’s the common the common habit of somebody inventing a reason to justify their racism you know exactly exactly
Okay, so where are we with the Zoning Department right now – and by the way are you gonna get your twenty thousand dollars back that they made you spend to get out of Santa Rita?
Wilson Riles – That’s a very good question. I don’t think so. So we have an agreement with the city for us to do always supposed to do we have a design review project the description that’s been accepted we have a variance that’s been accepted and we have a conditional use permit that’s been accepted so all of those things are in place.
What I don’t know is whether zoning is going to come around again and try to throw something new on us to the harassers about something that has been accepted there there’s no reason for them to do it but it seems like it doesn’t take a reason.
Zennie Abraham – That ought to be against the law here – too many business owners and property managers and property owners tell me over the years that a city both an inspector is only inspector or a Health and Safety Code inspector will come in make run round of inspections then come back and ask for something they didn’t ask for before.
There ought to be a law to just basically say look you know you do your inspection once you lock in everything you don’t add anything new you you didn’t point out the first – time don’t point out the second time. I mean. I mean what are your thoughts because it’s being used selectively to favor certain people and as is the case in your instance not favor other people?
Wilson Riles, Jr. – Right, yeah, so definitely something needs to be done. I think we need some new legislation to stop that kind of activity, and to have a place for complaints to be brought and legitimately dealt with to correct the behavior of the department. It seems like an individual resolution of the specific case does not change this behavior in the department.
So I’m going to be trying to work with other councilmembers to see if we can structure something. I don’t know if it would be something like the police commission but something with its open for citizens to come and lay out their complaints about what’s going on and where their beats are enough force behind that to change the behavior you know and the the rules and regulations in in terms of how many please that people function.
Zennie Abraham – It’s a great idea. I have a name for it: ‘The City Administration Commission’ – how about that or City Admin Commission. You know good that could be broad-based you know? Hey, I know you’re busy and what’s the next step here right now you said council murders but the next weekend what can we do to help I’m getting the word out this is a live stream this is a broadcast and it’s more you’re talking than me what what what are the next steps and what would you like people to do?
Wilson Riles – Well, you know, I’m going to be bringing this complaint before the police commission? I don’t have a date for that right now. I’m sitting down with my attorneys and doing that and trying to get a copy of the police report, even though they dropped the charges. So, you know that we can bring that properly before the police commission.
What I would hope that folks would do would be to stay awake keep their ears open to understand that these are problems that are not going to go away and that we need to learn one to another, to listen to one another with some bit of humility, and to join together with our neighbors in order to create the kind of conditions that are good for all of us.
I think we need to continue to show though to get that to that place, and when they hear that we bring something before the City Council in order to create some kind of response structure, or correction structure, or the Zoning Department or any other department of the city. I hope folks will find some time take the time to come around in any way they can to support it any individual effort on the part of any of us I think will go a long way to moving all of us to a better place in this city that we all love.
Zennie Abraham – Well said. Hey one other question – how is how is it in your view that we’ve come to this how is Oakland changing because if my thought is we’ve lost our soul you know and I don’t feel like I know what the city is anymore. What’s going on?
Wilson Riles – Well you know I think we’re under some severe economic crisis that definitely comes forward in terms of the housing situation, and the homeless. You know we’re also under the umbrella idiot CEOs our President, and all that we’re hearing whenever we turn on the news about that idiocy we all unknown about it, anxious about it. Some folks are hiding it – the impression about it.
And, so it’s that kind of pressure which is then doubled and tripled when you end up being swept into a criminal justice system that is – is itself.
I just wish people would stop and take a breather. Whether they do Native American prayer or meditation or bliss them or whether, they just do yoga and exercise or run around the block, we all have to find ways to take care of ourselves in that kind of situation, and be present and open to one another. And I think that we can get through this and hopefully change the direction and the structure of where we’re going could be going in a better place.
Zennie Abraham – Councilmember I really thank you then I again I’m really sorry this happened to you.
Wilson Riles – Thank you, Zennie, I appreciate you, man.
Zennie Abraham – god bless you- you know thank you thanks. All right, thanks. Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. Please share this around and subscribe to zennie6262 on youtube and bookmark Oakland news Now, Oakland’s only daily blog.
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