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Occupy, The 'Battles Of Oakland', And The Face Of US Police Abuse

By       Message Ritt Goldstein       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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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.

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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 fire.

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.  

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Olsen, a 24 year old 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 currently suffering "brain swelling", with the left side of his skull "fractured".   His condition had been described as "critical", but by Friday afternoon was upgraded to "fair", though he remains in an intensive care unit, and questions regarding the severity of "brain damage" remained.

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.   

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Perhaps best explaining what precipitated the current police action, in April 2003 The Mercury News quoted a liason for Oakland's then Vice Mayor as observing "the only violence that I saw was from the police''.    The liason, Joel Tena, was quoted as adding 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 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."

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I am an American investigative political journalist living in Sweden, and have lived in Sweden since July 1997. My work has appeared fairly widely, including in America's Christian Science Monitor, Spain's El Mundo, Sweden's Aftonbladet, Austria's (more...)

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