Tuesday’s violent early-morning dispersal of the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza doesn’t come as much of a surprise, even if the reason for the raid given by Oakland’s acting chief of police — that there was a worry about sanitary conditions at the encampment — was surprising enough for Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! to facetiously enquire if the chief cleans his dirty toilet by tossing in a few flash grenades. The way in which the Occupy Oakland camp was broken up was unnecessary, uncivic, and contravenes the Oakland Police Department’s own regulations concerning the use of “less-lethal” projectiles. The Oakland Police Department, in conjunction with other local police departments, fired tear gas canisters, bean-bag rounds, and — by most accounts — rubber bullets at unarmed protestors, including protestors in wheelchairs. Perhaps most disturbing of all is the hospitalization of Scott Olsen, a veteran of the Iraq war, with a serious head injury, sustained while non-violently confronting the line of police as they were approaching to break up the encampment.
The reason that the actions of the Oakland Police Department aren’t too much of a surprise in this case is that they have, as the saying goes, “prior” when it comes to the use of excessive force against non-violent protestors. The current rulebook concerning the use of “less-lethal” munitions that the Oakland Police Department is supposed to abide by was drawn up after a 2003 attack on a non-violent anti-war protest at the Oakland docks that I participated in. This unprovoked attack — including the use of wooden dowels and rubber bullets at close range against unarmed and unresisting protestors — resulted in settlements and court costs of somewhere in the ballpark of two million dollars.
Clearly the early-morning raid on the Occupy Oakland camp was an attempt to avoid public scrutiny. As anybody who’s ever lived in Oakland knows (I lived in downtown Oakland for seven years) the downtown area is primarily a civic and business center and it tends to clear out at night. The residents of Oakland — including a high percentage of elected officials and government employees — tend to be extremely sympathetic to social justice issues and it’s doubtful if the police could have executed a daylight eviction without a great deal of public opposition involved. The stealth involved in this act is symptomatic of the increasing disconnect between the political, corporate, and financial classes that hold the levers of power and the voices of a deeply concerned citizenry that can’t seem to get any kind of proper hearing for what are clearly very real and legitimate grievances: the stultifying pressures of damagingly high levels of unemployment; a serious lack of decent, full-time positions for those who are lucky enough to find work; a healthcare system that is insanely out of whack; skyrocketing education costs; and a mortgage crisis that, after it all plays out, will have seen millions of people lose their homes. The reason for this disconnect seems fairly clear — about 50% of the members of Congress are millionaires while only about 1% of the US population fits into this category — and this surely plays into the historically low approval rating of 13% that the public holds toward our elected representatives.
The real issue here is why these relatively minor acts of non-violent civic unrest and civil disobedience on the part of those who clearly have real concerns to voice — concerns that resonate with the majority of the U.S. population — are being met with violence rather than care. The issues that the Occupy Wall Street movement is dealing with are not fringe issues, but are in fact the central issues that are going to occupy American society — and probably European society as well — for at least the next decade. I already know where I stand — people over profits, and cooperation over corporations.
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Tags: "less-lethal" munitions, Oakland Police Department use of "less-lethal" munitions, Occupy movement, Occupy Oakland, police violence, protest