Police Aggression And The Occupy Movement
In Oakland Tuesday night, riot police were deployed to deal with the peaceful Occupy Oakland protesters. After systematically blocking main avenues and side streets during a march, the police penned in protesters and surrounded them.
These were no ordinary blue suited patrolmen, not your neighborhood beat cops making the rounds. These were fully geared riot police sporting tear gas canisters, beanbag and rubber bullet shooting firearms and flash bang grenades.
After a few minor skirmishes, things got ugly. Police began to fire tear gas into the crowd followed by rubber bullets and bean bags as well as what have been reported as both flash bang grenades or ‘large fire crackers’ depending on who you talk to.
This is what the scene looked like after full engagement by the police:
At 1:07 in the video, you see a nearly unconscious young man with blood surrounding his left eye. That young man’s name is Scott Olsen and he has quickly become the face of the Occupy Movement and the proof that overreaction by police in different cities can have serious consequences.
Scott is a Marine Corps veteran who survived two tours in Iraq. He left the Marines in 2010 and settled in San Francisco. Tuesday night he became a victim of violence from the police that he fought to protect. I’m certain I don’t need to point out the irony there.
One would like to assume that municipal leaders would find it in their own self interest to employ a certain logic or at least a sense of self efficacy in these tense situations. There is that old cliche that says if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. I’d amend that to say that if you send riot police to deal with what amounts to a minor public nuisance, they might just find a riot, or at least find a way to create one.
Sending fully equipped riot cops after a group of peaceful, but agitated citizens almost certainly resulted in the introduction of fear and mistrust between protesters and police. Fear breeds aggression and forcing the vibe of a peaceful crowd into a collective fight or flight response is no way to keep the peace. According to police, the Occupiers threw rocks and bottles. Let’s assume that the police version of events is true, is the appropriate response to attack American citizens with tear gas and rubber bullets with absolutely no regard for whom you might injure? Or should trained law enforcement professionals take a moment to identify the violent offenders, detain them and explore other. more reasonable methods to deal with a fearful and agitated crowd.
That whole exercise in what-ifs is pointless though. In a city the size of Oakland, the police are well trained in crowd control tactics. They employ experts in the science of cowing the masses and they know exactly what to expect in these situations. That fact alone is why the actions of police last Tuesday were wholly inexcusable in any law enforcement context. Neither the city of Oakland, it’s police force or its citizens were made safer that night. The relationship between the average person and the average police officer saw no benefit. No criminals were brought to justice and no progress was made by law enforcement toward making the City of Oakland a better place to exist.
Who gave the authorization to use tear gas and rubber bullets on a group of citizens who, by all accounts but one, were practicing a very peaceful brand of civil disobedience? Was it the Mayor? The acting Chief of Police? The commander on the ground? The people of Oakland deserve to know the answer to that question because their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their fellow citizens fell victim to the worst form of excessive force and oppressive government on Tuesday. The responsible parties need to become examples of what not to do in situations like this. They need to apologize, they need to find a way to make it right and then they need to resign.
Members of the Occupy movement have faced more than a few hardships in their first couple months. They have overcome logistical issues, cold weather, personality conflicts, and overly aggressive law enforcement. I am certain members of Occupy Oakland are afraid now for their safety, but it hasn’t stopped them from coming back after being viciously attacked by the men and women who swore to protect them. As we sit here, they are peacefully and determinedly deconstructing the fences erected by the City of Oakland meant to keep them out of the park. They know what comes next because they’ve already lived though it. Some of them are veterans, some are mothers and fathers, they are all the 99%, and here they are ready to take a rubber bullet in the head…again…in order to make their point. That is the definition of courage.