Positioning a Police Whistle Blower
Oakland Unified School District Police Commander Jonathan Bellusa has penetrated the “thin blue line” that shields corrupt, abusive, violent police officers and departments. He has done so through legal mechanisms and has made sure to seek out lawyers that he trusts in order to be a whistle-blower in a way that is legally appropriate to his position. Among the broad public and because of the methods he used, he will likely be considered a “good” cop.
As we described in Part One of this series: A “good” cop is one who strictly follows the law or who acts in ways that civilians around them perceive as positive. Bellusa has attempted to fulfill the former part of that definition, and has fulfilled the latter. But as we also described in Part One, this analysis of “good” or “bad” cop has no place in a radical conversation about justice. Releasing the details of Raheim Brown, Jr.’s murder or the department-wide corruption of OUSD PD on his terms would mostly likely benefit Bellusa and highlight him as a hero. This is partially why Against Hired Guns is preempting his release of this information.
Exposing the “Thin Blue Line”
In his testimony, Bellusa described a deeply interconnected web of self-protection among departments and individuals related to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the Oakland Police Department. The connections, described in depth in a summary that is published as Part Three of this document, exposes dirty dealings of officers, lawyers and political representatives that serve those agencies.
As a result of his attempts to blow the whistle –through OUSD’s Human Resources office, through Internal Affairs, through lawyers hired to represent him by the district, through a federal judge, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation and through the US Attorney’s office – Bellusa was threatened. The only detail of those threats described in his testimony is this: “I have felt that if I gave statements that went against the district, that I would be thrown in jail for perjury.” We expect more details to come.
No Justice for Raheim
Bellusa was the primary aggressor in the events immediately preceding the killing of Raheim Brown, Jr. on January 22nd, 2011. The young man literally had his shirt ripped off of his back and was being beaten with a “hammer fist” and a flashlight before Raheim made any intentional physical contact with anyone – all of this is according to Bellusa’s testimony. Raheim’s natural human instinct to protect himself from being assaulted by two people has been and will likely continue to be considered an attack on an officer by the legal system.
After the first two shots fired at Raheim by Sergeant Barhin Bhatt – at the direction of Bellusa – his gun jammed. Five to ten seconds later, after Bellusa had identified that no officer faced an immediate threat, Bhatt fired another round of bullets, resulting in Raheim’s death.
It has now been over two years since Raheim’s family lost him to the violence of policing. They have relentlessly searched for justice and still do not know exactly what happened to him. At the very least, Bellusa or any of the people or agencies he spoke with, could have explained the context of Raheim’s killing to his family members, who continue to grieve and struggle with the loss of their son, father and lover.
The legal route did not lead and will not lead to justice for Raheim’s family.
Even a Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day
While we support shedding light on corrupt police departments, we remember that the very nature of the role of law enforcement in our society can do nothing else but increase violence. We are reminded of this as often as people are harassed, contained, criminalized or killed by cops.
It is better that Bellusa blow the whistle than not, but it would be a mistake to forget that he set in motion the events that led to the killing of Raheim Brown, Jr. through actions that are justifiable by the legal system. It makes no sense to us to wholly support any individual or any system that perpetrates violence.
This police commander still has his job, and as demonstrated by his approach to blowing the whistle, he believes the legal system to be the primary mechanism for justice. As we explored in Part One of this series, the enforcement of our legal system constantly justifies and relies on violence. Bellusa’s job is to enforce that system through the wrist-wringing of handcuffs, the bars of a prison cell, and the barrel of a gun. This twisted concept of safety increases and intensifies violence by police and on our streets.
Within the framework of understanding that legal policies, practices and institutions use violence and corruption to function, our search for justice in response to police attacks excludes police and cannot be centered on the legal process they are tasked with defending. From individual cops to their departments and to federal enforcers – all complicit in this exposé – these legal institutions do their jobs correctly when they keep information away from the public. By reinforcing itself as the only route toward justice, our legal system prevents the public from being proactive in our efforts to keep our communities safe. In the meantime, that system shields itself and continues to harass, contain, cage and kill. Relying on the legal system to grant us justice perpetuates and expands the violence of policing.
What we understand in this case, and to reiterate from previous ones (explored in Part One), is the need to continue to support Raheim’s family and to build this case into our understanding of the meaning of policing: A constant raising of the stakes that turns a claim of feeling threatened or a stolen car into the taking of a life, and placing it in a grave or a cage.
The killing of Raheim Brown, Jr. and the events leading to it are not unique. The corruption described in Bellusa’s testimony within the Oakland school police and those who supervise and defend it is not unique. The only difference in this case is that we have a “good” cop and a legal transcript.
The purpose of this piece is to broaden people’s understandings of how police and our legal system protect themselves at all levels in ways that increase harm and violence.
Against Hired Guns is not interested in defining the character of public outcry, but we also want to support concrete wins. Because of this, we will be facilitating a public meeting on Friday, March 8th at Uptown Studios (1738 Telegraph Ave in Oakland) from 6-8pm to support sustained and strategic campaigns against policing in our communities. We hope that a myriad of people and organizations concerned with keeping our communities safe from the harms of policing will be there.