Occupy Oakland: Courageous, Determined Resistance in the Face of Brutal Police Assault

Scott Olsen, seriously injured by police projectile, Oakland, October 25, 2011 photo: Jay Finneburgh
Scott Olsen, seriously injured by police projectile, Oakland, October 25, 2011 photo: Jay Finneburgh

Scott Olsen, seriously injured by police projectile, Oakland, October 25, 2011 photo: Jay Finneburgh

from Revolution newspaper

Thursday, October 27, 2011. As we post this report about developments with Occupy Oakland many things are going on. Oakland's mayor Jean Quan's first statement after the brutal police attack on Occupy Oakland Tuesday night had praised the police. But under widespread criticism, Quan issued another statement on Thursday expressing concern for those injured in the police assault and promising an investigation. She also said people would be allowed to return to the Occupation area. And Thursday night, there was a General Assembly in the Plaza and people had set up camp again. The courageous, determined resistance of the Occupiers, the broad outrage at the police violence, and support from others have forced the authorities to take back a step, for now. This is a real victory for the people.

In the wake of fierce resistance in the face of two massive police operations in one day, the Occupy movement in Oakland announced its decision to take its struggle to another level: a general strike and day of mass action for November 2. Across the Bay, in San Francisco thousands gathered at the occupy encampment Wednesday night to prevent a police raid, joined by some city supervisors and candidates for mayor—and though there were buses and police staging across town the attack never came. The authorities seems to be somewhat in disarray, under a spotlight after launching the violent police actions in Oakland on Tuesday—still wanting to crack down, still lying about why, and trying to blame the protesters for provoking the police violence. Meanwhile a young man, Scott Olsen, lies unconscious in critical condition in an Oakland hospital from injuries he received at the hands of the police on Tuesday. Revolutionaries have been involved in this struggle and filed this report.

 

At 4 pm, on Tuesday, a crowd of 500 people gathered in front of the library in downtown Oakland, just blocks away from Frank Ogawa Plaza, which the people have renamed Oscar Grant Plaza. A facilitator spoke from the steps and balcony, giving props to the librarians who had refused police requests to close. Different people, reflecting the diversity of the movement, gave short statements that were repeated peoples' microphone style. A homeless woman spoke of her love for the movement. A teacher said the system was broken and there is a need for revolution. An announcement was made that we would march to "reclaim the plaza," where the police had attacked and dismantled Occupy Oakland early Tuesday morning, and received roaring approval.

Scott Olsen, seriously injured by police projectile, Oakland, October 25, 2011 photo: Jay Finneburgh

Before the march left the plaza, rapper and musician Boots Riley said:

"I'm proud to see all of you shown' up here in Oakland to show to show that you are committed to that…All over the world, people are wondering what's goin’ to happen here in Oakland. People that are not involved in the movement are looking to see if this is a movement they want to join. People that are in the movement want you guys to win. We are the 99%.We will stop the world and make those motherfuckers jump off. I've been told that we are going to march and take back Oscar Grant Plaza for our comrades that are in jail for the people watchin’ all around the world and for your grandchildren who you'll want to tell that you were here."

The march took off towards Broadway, where an army of police, standing behind metal barricades occupied the plaza, the march turned left toward the police station. It was clear the people would not stand for being bullied. On one corner near the station riot police brandishing huge shotguns with belts displaying shiny shells stood posing. People yelled at the police, "shame, shame" and got up in their faces. There was an arrest. The march split into two. On a smaller street, police grabbed and handcuffed two people and then were surrounded by a crowd of hundreds of angry people demanding "let them go!" Eventually, more cops came in and set off some kind of small explosive. The march scattered briefly, only to reunite with another crowd that had been split off before.

People were determined to go to the plaza and started marching toward it. A chant initiated by revolutionaries resonated with the crowd and rang out again and again: "Rise up with the people of the world. Rise up, rise up, rise up." The march filled the area in the intersection, in front of the line of heavily armed police blockading Oscar Grant plaza. The crowd was chanting "The role of police: to serve and protect—not us—but the 1 percent!"

Suddenly there were extremely loud noises, flashes and sounds of shots. Sparks flew on all sides of us as we ran, people were getting hit. Then the tear gas spread, and people were coughing and covering their faces. In this first big attack, a member of Iraq Veterans against the War was hit in the head at close range by a police projectile.

We talked with photographer Jay Finneburgh who witnessed and photographed the police attack:

"I was at 14th and Broadway about 15 feet from the police line. Without warning they started lobbing flash bang grenades into the crowd. Several went over our heads in the middle of the crowd, they released tear gas.... Scott Olsen, who was directly behind me, got hit in the head and crumpled to the ground. I thought he had tripped and was going to get back up, but I turned around and noticed he was still on the ground and he wasn't moving. Several and myself went back to him. I took several shots while protesters, who were trying to figure out what was wrong with him, started screaming for a medic. And then they lobbed another flash bang right into the group surrounding Scott Olsen. In one of the images I have there is a large flash of light and one of the activists is cringing, and that is when the flash bang grenade went off. At that point there was so much gas I couldn't breath. Three or four people were carrying Scott Olsen, they got him to 15th and set him down. He was bleeding from the head and looked dazed. Somehow people got him to the hospital and I hear he is in stable but critical condition with brain swelling and a two inch crack in his skull. Later I noticed the blood stains where Scott Olsen had gone down and a few feet away I picked up a police projectile, a bean bag. But I heard that police are saying it was a tear gas canister which meant the police must have shot it, not into the air but at head level from only 15 feet away."

During the evening and late into the night many people were hit with projectiles that were shot or lobbed by police, but the people did not go away. Some people reported they heard that tear gas canisters were picked up and thrown back at police. Youth of all backgrounds were predominant in the crowd. There were many people of all ages from the bottom of society. And there was a general sense of comradeliness among people in the huge crowd. Again and again people regrouped, marched, and fearlessly faced the army of riot cops. They chanted "Who are You Protecting?" and "We're still here!" They also put a sports-type chant to good use: "Let's-go, Oak-land!"

There were at least five, maybe seven more attacks that night by police who came from many different cities, and the Internet is filed with photos of protesters with bruised backs, stomachs and legs and some bloodied faces. The National Lawyer's Guild and the ACLU have both issued statements condemning the police actions in Oakland demanding an investigation. They told Revolution that they are getting calls from people who were injured by police projectiles and some from people who fell sick from being tear gassed at close range, including a woman in a wheelchair. They do not yet have figures on the numbers of people injured, nor the extent of their injuries. They are trying to document the different munitions used by the police.

An official police press released blatantly lied about the use of force and made up a ridiculous story that the protesters were the ones using explosives:

Q. Did the Police deploy rubber bullets, flash-bag grenades?

A. No, the loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at Police by protesters. In addition, Police fired approximately four bean bag rounds at protesters to stop them from throwing dangerous objects at the officers.

Q. Did the Police use tear gas?

A. Yes, the Police used a limited amount of tear gas for a small area as a defense against protesters who were throwing various objects at Police Officers as they approached the area. 

In spite of repeated attacks protesters stayed in the streets late into the night, and thousands showed up for the general assembly in the plaza the next evening on Wednesday. The fences were taken down by the people. The police had backed off, for the evening. There were vigils for Scott Olsen. And there were reports of demonstrations from New York to Cairo in support of the people in Oakland. After consensus was reached for the November 2 general strike, people again took to the streets and marched until the early hours of Thursday morning. Occupy Oakland's announcement for the November 2 general strike and mass action ends with the words, "The whole world is watching Oakland. Let’s show them what is possible."

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The following was posted at the Occupy Together website www.occupytogether.org/

Call for Vigils for Scott at Occupations Everywhere

This morning Occupy Oakland and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) put out a call for occupations across America and around the world to hold solidarity vigils for Scott Olsen, a former Marine and two time Iraq War veteran. Olsen sustained a skull fracture after being shot in the head on October 25 with a police projectile while peacefully participating in an Occupy Oakland march.

Occupy Oakland and IVAW—an organization that Scott Olsen is a member of—are organizing the Oakland vigil. It will be held today, Thursday, October 27, 7:00 pm PST, during the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland at 14th St. and Broadway.

They are also calling on other occupations that are part of the 99% movement to take time to vigil for Scott this evening. Some occupations will take a few moments during their General Assembly to hold Scott in their thoughts, to honor his commitment to social justice, and to hope for his strong recovery.

Scott joined the Marines in 2006, served two tours in Iraq, and was discharged in 2010. Scott moved to California from Wisconsin and currently works as a systems network administrator in Daly City.

Scott is one of an increasing number of war veterans who are participating in America's growing Occupy movement. Said Keith Shannon, who deployed with Scott to Iraq, "Scott was marching with the 99% because he felt corporations and banks had too much control over our government, and that they weren't being held accountable for their role in the economic downturn, which caused so many people to lose their jobs and their homes."

People across the country reacted with outrage yesterday to the police brutality unleashed against peaceful people engaged in protest in Oakland—and particularly to the injury of Scott Olsen. Occupy Oakland has been a public forum, set up on public land, concerned with critical public issues about the nation’s financial crisis, consolidation of wealth and power, and the ability of citizens to meaningfully participate in the democratic process. The brutality they were met with sends a chilling message to those who want to serve their country by working for social change.

Scott is currently sedated and in critical condition at a local hospital.