This past week saw police move forcefully against America's Occupy Wall Street
protesters in a number of cities , with considerable police violence in
Oakland, California and Denver, Colorado, plus numerous arrests in places like
San Diego, Nashville and Atlanta. Video of the Oakland violence recalls a war
Events suggest a coordinated effort to "push back" against Occupy's string of
successes, with some police departments seemingly welcoming an opportunity for
confrontation with the protesters.
Saturday saw Denver's "Occupiers" facing police pepper spray and Mace, first on
the steps of the Colorado Capitol, then at a
park where police swept the crowd with pepper spray and opened fire with rubber
bullets . Arrests were reported, but all of the police confrontations, as of
this writing, pale in comparison with Oakland's events, events which have
precipitated a general strike in the city for Wednesday.
The call for the strike has substantive union support, and includes an
attempted shutdown of the Port of Oakland, one of America's busiest. News media
have widely reported that the city is bracing itself for Wednesday's events,
and Oakland's mayor, Jean Quan, circulated a memo to city employees allowing
all but police to take Wednesday off.
Notably, Oakland was the site of the last US general strike, in 1946.
Spawning Occupy Oakland's action, on Tuesday, October 25, at 5 am, riot police
raided the ongoing Occupy protest there, beginning a day of sustained police
violence against the non-violent demonstrators. But, this "battle" against
those exercising the right to peaceful protest isn't Oakland's first.
The first "Battle of Oakland" took place against anti-war demonstrators on
April 7, 2003 , with Wikipedia noting that "police fired wooden dowels,
sting balls, concussion grenades, tear gas and other non-lethal weapons when
protesters at the gates of two shipping lines at the port refused an order to
disperse. Longshoremen and protestors were injured in the exchange."
Longshoreman were also quoted as saying the police gave those present two
minutes to disperse, then simply unleased the non-lethal weaponry, not
attempting to make any arrests.
Many protesters, which included a cross-section of the community, were reported
as attempting to hide from the police onslaught and barrage. A number of those
injured were wounded in the back, suggesting they were not attacking police
when fired upon.
Contrary to police claims at the time, protesters emphasized that they were
acting peacefully, and "accused the police of using excessive force". Notably,
nine longshoremen that were not part of the protest were injured by the police
According to a 2003 story in the San Jose Mercury News, the workers "were
standing in one area waiting to go to work, and then the police started firing
on the longshoremen", said Henry Graham, the president of ILWU Local 10. "Some
were hit in the chest with rubber bullets, and seven of our guys went to the
hospital. I don't want to imply that the police deliberately did this, but it
doesn't make sense." Police were also accused at the time of aiming directly
for the protesters  when discharging crowd control weapons.
Tragically, in the current Oakland police violence on Tuesday, Iraq war vet
Scott Olsen was reported to have suffered a skull fracture. Particularly
disturbing, video of those protesters coming to Olsen's rescue  clearly
shows a police officer throwing a munition of some kind into the rescue group.
Olsen, a 24-year-old US Marine vet who served two Iraq tours, has been reported
as being struck by a tear gas cannister fired by Oakland police at close range.
While never wounded in Iraq, he is now suffering brain swelling, with the left
side of his skull fractured. His condition had initially been described as
critical; by Friday afternoon this was upgraded to fair, though he remains in
an intensive care unit, and questions regarding the severity of brain damage
Olsen is reported as unable to speak, with the speech center of his brain known
to be injured.
As to the veracity of the 2003 protester claims, in March 2006 the New York
Times reported that the clash "will cost the city of Oakland more than $2
million, including dozens of payouts to people injured when officers fired
wooden dowels, bean bags and rubber pellets".
Notably, the city's police department was reported as promising in 2006 that
its procedures on dealing with protesters would change, raising further
questions regarding its current move against Occupy.
The New York Times article also noted that the settlements of between $5,000
and $500,000 would "cover medical costs associated with the injuries, which
included broken bones and grapefruit-size welts and in some cases required
operations and skin grafts".
Aside from Olsen's tragic wound, numerous injuries among protesters in the
latest demonstrations have been reported, with about 100 arrested during the
pre-dawn raid on Occupy's encampment, the raid marking the start of conflict
that continued into the night.
Sanitation and safety concerns were raised as the official rationale behind the
police move. Hundreds of officers in riot gear were reported as descending upon
the 175 peaceful protesters at their two-week old site in front of Oakland's
city hall, "demolishing" it.
Similar safety and sanitation concerns have been used as the rationale by all
those police departments involved in the ongoing push against Occupy. However,
the resolve of the protesters widely appears only strengthened by the police
Perhaps explaining what precipitated the current series of Oakland police
confrontations, in April 2003 The Mercury News quoted a liaison for Oakland's
then vice mayor as observing "the only violence that I saw was from the
police". The liaison, Joel Tena, then reportedly added that the eruption of
police violence was "very surprising. It seemed the police were operating under
the assumption that they were not going to let any kind of protest happen".
In 2003, as now, following in the wake of police action, accusations of
"agitators" and allegations of violence from demonstrators marked many official
In September 1997, Time Magazine ran a story titled, "A Veteran Chief: Too Many
Cops Think It's A War". Video of the current heavy-handed Oakland tactics
depicts scenes indeed recalling a "war zone", complete with helicopters. But
the Time article was written 14 years ago by former San Jose police chief
Joseph D McNamara, a research fellow with Stanford University's Hoover
Aside from the descriptive nature of the article's title, McNamara made a
further keen observation upon what he saw as a cause of police brutality,
noting how some "groups of police officers share a fermenting contempt for the
people they encounter".
In a number of Occupy locales, police have attempted to suggest that the
demonstrators are composed of simply "troubled individuals", a suggestion at
odds with the facts. However, in New York City, the October 30, New York Daily
News reported that such "troubled" types had been actively encouraged by the
New York Police Department to join the protesters at their Zuccotti Park
While "to protect and serve" is the universal US police credo, too many
incidents have long raised questions as to whom some officers see themselves as
protecting and serving. Police violence against peaceful demonstrators
certainly does not seem in any community's interest, at least none in a
It is no small paradox that while Scott Olsen fought in Iraq to supposedly
bring freedom and democracy, the only severe wounds he ever received were those
sustained while trying to peacefully demonstrate at home.
1. The Occupy Wall Street protest protests are mainly against social and
economic inequality, corporate greed, corruption and influence over government
- particularly from the financial services sector - and lobbyists. The
protesters' slogan, "We are the 99%", refers to the difference in wealth in the
US between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. The first protest
was on September 17, 2011. By October 9, similar demonstrations were either
ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the US.
Other "Occupy" protests modeled after Occupy Wall Street have occurred in over
900 cities worldwide.
2. See here.
3. See here.
4. See here.
5. See here.
6. See here.
Ritt Goldstein is an investigative political journalist whose work has
appeared widely in the global media, including in the US Christian Science
Monitor, Spain's El Mundo, Austria's Wiener Zeitung and Australia's Sydney
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