Occupy Oakland protesters regroup – Iraq vet hurt
Seeking to cool the violent tone set by Tuesday night’s street clashes with Occupy Oakland protesters, police pulled down barricades Wednesday near City Hall, dramatically reduced their presence and said they would allow nightly demonstrations in the area until 10 p.m.
Hundreds of protesters responded Wednesday night by packing the amphitheater at Frank Ogawa Plaza, where they voted to hold a citywide general strike on Nov. 2, when workers and students will be urged to stay home to show support of the Occupy movement.
A grassy section of the plaza – the site of an elaborate encampment that police dismantled Tuesday morning – remained fenced off for cleaning, though not for long. By 7 p.m., the fence had been torn down as the lawn filled with protesters chanting, “Whose park? Our park!” Police officers kept their distance.
The dispute over protest tactics came after an afternoon news conference in which interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan defended the tactics of his department. “We are committed to allowing free speech,” he said, “but the First Amendment doesn’t allow violence or endangering the public or property.”
Six or seven people were injured, Jordan said. The most seriously wounded was Scott Olsen, 24, of Daly City, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who was listed in critical condition Wednesday at Highland General Hospital in Oakland.
Video footage distributed on the Internet shows a protester, identified by the antiwar group as Olsen, being carried away by others with a head wound. The cause was unclear. While he lay wounded, the footage appears to show an officer tossing something – perhaps a tear gas canister – toward people trying to help him.
Jordan said the incident was under investigation. “I wish it didn’t happen. Our goal is not to cause injury to anyone.”
But the street confrontations are bringing focus to a central question that those in the Occupy Oakland camp debated repeatedly during their 15 nights outside City Hall – whether demonstrators should opt for violence against police, meeting force with force.
The majority has supported nonviolence, and many are frustrated that some in the crowd threw bottles and paint at police. But some protesters favoring aggression are determined to continue the tactic. At the heart of the debate is what message the movement wants to project and in what way.
David Hartsough, who helped lead civil rights sit-ins and marches in the South in the early 1960s, said he has urged Occupy participants in Oakland and San Francisco to redouble nonviolence efforts.
“If people had fought back when police put the dogs on them in Selma and Birmingham, they wouldn’t have gathered the support they got,” said Hartsough, who founded the San Francisco-based Nonviolent Peaceforce.
When Tuesday’s protest devolved into a volley of rocks and tear gas, some organizers took to bullhorns. “If you throw something, you’re as bad as a cop,” one speaker said to the applause of several hundred people.
A chant followed, conveying the same message, but then someone from the back of the crowd lobbed a glass bottle that shattered on police helmets. Officers responded, lobbing tear gas again.
Occupy Oakland protester Casey Jones, 28, wore a T-shirt Wednesday reading “thrash and burn,” and skateboarded up and down Broadway yelling, “Bring it on!”
“I’m all about the riot – we need to be violent,” he said. “We need more numbers. We’ll just keep marching on.”
Like many of the videos released by the protesters, this one doesn’t show the events leading up to the police use of force. It shows Olsen already laying on the ground injured, but doesn’t show how he got injured or what he was doing when he got hurt.
Throwing a tear gas grenade into the group of people trying to help Olsen was inexcusable, but the excessive use of force by the police does not absolve the Occupiers of blame for their own violence and other law-breaking.
Part of the OWS strategy has been to seek confrontations with the police in order to generate publicity and sympathy. Utilizing that strategy made it inevitable that sooner or later someone would get hurt.
The City of Oakland made clear last week that the Occupiers could protest every day at Ogawa Plaza from 6 am to 10 pm. but they could not camp there or stay overnight.
Olsen wasn’t injured protesting Wall Street or income inequality. He was injured protesting for the “right” to camp out at Ogawa Plaza.
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