Occupy, the 'Battles of Oakland', and the Face of US Police Abuse
On Tuesday riot police raided the ongoing Occupy demonstration in Oakland, California, beginning a period of sustained police violence against the protesters. But, this 'battle' against those exercising the right to peaceful protest isn't Oakland's first.
The first 'Battle of Oakland' took place on April 7, 2003, Wikipedia noting that "police fired wooden dowels, sting balls, concussion grendades, 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 opened fire, not attempting to make any arrests.
Protesters, which included a cross-section of the community, were reported as attempting to hide from the police onslaught and barrage. Many were wounded in the back, suggesting they were not attacking police when fired upon.
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, today Iraq war vet Scott Olsen is reported to have suffered a skull fracture in the current Oakland police violence against Occupy's protesters.
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.
This photo of one courageous 2003 protester
circulated widely upon the Net
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 wounding, numerous injuries among protesters have currently been reported, with about a hundred 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.
In 2003, as now, following in the wake of police action accusations of "agitators" and allegations of violence from demonstrators marked many official pronouncements. However, history here does seem to suggest that Oakland has a problem with the right to peaceful protest.
In September of 1997, Time Magazine ran a story titled, "A Veteran Chief: Too Many Cops Think It's A War", and video of the current heavy handed Oakland tactics depicts scenes indeed recalling a 'war zone', complete with helicopters . But the Time article was written fourteen years ago by former San Jose police chief Joseph D. McNamara, a research fellow with Stanford University's Hoover Institution. And, 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."