Friday, October 28, 2011
What Happened in Oakland -- and the Problem of Progressive Politics
Above is a picture of Marine Veteran For Peace Scott Olsen, 24, standing next to Joshua Shepherd, another VfP member in full Navy uniform holding the VfP flag, at the demonstration Tuesday night in which he was severely wounded by -- some projectile -- that came from police lines during the brutal attempt to clear the crowd from the area around Frank Ogawa (aka Oscar Grant) Plaza in front of the Oakland City Hall. [Note: Edited to add name and link to video of Navy member of Veterans for Peace.]
"Some projectile" is the best anyone can come up with at this point because there is no clear evidence regarding what the projectile was, nor even is the source entirely clear. On the one hand, Scott fell severely wounded immediately after two or even three flashbang smoke grenades were hurled by police at the crowd and landed about 20 feet away from him. Other projectiles -- bean bags, "rubber bullets", possibly wooden blocks or dowels (which Oakland police have used before) -- were also being fired into the by then largely dispersed crowd.
What exactly hit and wounded Scott Olsen is at this point unknown. But something hit him hard enough in the head to fracture his skull and knock him unconscious and leave him in critical condition from which he has only recently emerged.
From the video evidence, it is clear that once Scott was down and people gathered to lend him aid, an officer -- who has been spotted but not identified -- then threw a flashbang grenade (and a smoke grenade?) directly at the group of people attempting to aid Olsen. It exploded in their midst, mere inches from Scott's body. This momentarily scattered those who were trying to help their wounded comrade, but they rushed back as soon as they saw it was relatively clear -- if not safe -- to do so. They were then able to carry Olsen away.
No one is yet sure what agency the officer(s) who threw the grenade(s) and who may also have fired the projectile that hit Scott came from. There are indistinct video images of the shoulder patches worn by the two most likely officers. All I can make out of them indicates that they are from a police agency in Alameda County; the closest match I've been able to find to their patches is that of the Oakland School Police. If it is correct, that would be quite a revelation.
The only other one that I've found that it might be is the California Highway Patrol.
From a distance the CHP patch appears to be a somewhat closer match, and I have seen CHP at the Capitol on occasion in riot get ups, so... may be. [See UPDATE below]
At this point, it doesn't matter who exactly wounded Scott; according to reports, hundreds of people were hit and wounded by police projectiles or suffered lingering consequences from tear gas inhalation on Tuesday. The incidents of police firing on the crowds went on from the very early morning when the Occupy Oakland village in front of City Hall was first raided to late into the night of the following day when the police and demonstrators finally called it quits for the night.
Who caused Scott's skull fracture may never be known for certain, any more than who caused any of the other wounds the demonstrators suffered.
What is of more critical interest at the present time is the fact that the raid and its aftermath were ordered by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (who now wonders whether she did the right thing), was planned by Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana, and was implemented by Oakland Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan with the assistance and participation of law enforcement agencies from Alameda County and elsewhere in the Bay Area and Northern California.
There were over five hundred officers assembled in Oakland for the initial raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment at 4:30am on Tuesday. Many of them stayed throughout the day and long into the night as the demonstrations against the raid took place. They cordoned off the Plaza in front of City Hall and prevented public access. They intercepted crowds marching from the Oakland City Library to the area of the Plaza and ordered them to disperse. When they did not, the police fired tear gas and other projectiles at the demonstrators, and took several into custody. At some point during the afternoon, police officers were splashed with paint (much as has happened in other demonstrations around the world), and further rounds of tear gas were fired and further arrests were made, though so far as I know, not of anyone who actually splashed the paint on the officers, whoever it may have been.
The issue is the order for and the implementation of plans for violent clearance of the Occupy Oakland village, and the violent suppression of the protest thereof.
As I've pointed out in other fora, this is Oakland, California. Violent suppression of protest and dissent is a way of life there, as is the nearly constant activism of residents against the suppression. There have been many demonstrations and occasional riots which have been brutally put down by Oakland law enforcement with the support and assistance of many other Northern California police agencies. The situation has been especially tense in Oakland since the shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART cop on New Year's Day 2009.
In a very real sense, Oakland has been under some form of martial law for years. While the events of Tuesday are shocking to the conscience of anyone who has a conscience, they are not at all surprising to anyone who is aware of the nearly constant outrageous actions of the police there and the almost constant demonstrations against the outrages.
Jean Quan was elected mayor last year as a reform candidate. She has long been known as a "progressive" activist, and she won office against the wishes of the Democratic Party apparat.
She ordered this? What the fuckkity fuck?
Yes, yes she did. She ordered this, and she approved the action while she was in Washington, DC, lobbying principally on behalf of Oakland business interests.
Which may give you a clue as to why it was done the way it was done and when it was done in the first place. There are few accidental actions like this. They take long planning and coordination, and they must have a date certain and a time for implementation. They are not ad hoc at all.
Bluntly, it seems clear she was trying to make a show for the White House's benefit, much as Kevin Johnson is trying to do in Sacramento.
The point being that these mayors are trying to demonstrate just how to successfully thwart and suppress the Occupy Movement.
The 'baggers weren't nearly the threat to the Powers That Be that the Occupiers are -- for the simple reason that the 'baggers were co-opted from the get, and their program was essentially no different than that of the Overclass. So far, the Overclass has barely been able to penetrate, let alone co-opt, the Movement-becoming-Revolution, and so the issue for the 1% is to figure out how to suppress it without looking too much like Mubarak's thugs in Cairo.
It's apparently up to mayors all over the country to show how to do it, ratcheting up the pressure on the Occupiers, while experimenting with various tactics and techniques to find something that works.
Jean Quan was doing her part, but maybe now she's having some second thoughts about it, for she has come under withering criticism and has been forced to issue a statement is almost -- but not quite -- contrite regarding what happened. [See UPDATE for more information]
The police chief and the city administrator have also come in for their share of criticism -- including criticism of the fact that they blatantly lied straight out about the weapons and tactics they were using against the demonstrators.
Wednesday night, thousands of Occupy Oakland participants and their supporters returned to Frank Ogawa (Oscar Grant) Plaza, conducted their General Assembly on the steps of City Hall, decided to call for a General Strike on November 2, and then they danced.
They also tore down the fencing erected to keep them out of the Plaza itself, reestablished part of their campsite on the Plaza and several of the participants spent the night -- without being harrassed by the police. In fact, reports were that the police were nowhere to be seen near the Plaza by Wednesday night, and the City had ordered a temporary stand down.
Yes, well. What else could they do? Without looking like Mubarak's thugs that is...
By Thursday night, the Oakland General Assembly was attracting over 2000 participants, as union members arrived in solidarity and support.
The City now says they want to listen and negotiate (ah, the KJ approach).
But in my view, it's too late. They screwed up so badly with the raids and failed attempts at suppression that there's little chance of productive negotiation at this point.
They only have two options now: Yield or go to full on conquest and rout of the demonstrators. And the second option is not going to work over the long term. You can't kill a revolutionary idea.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan's letter to Occupy Oakland regarding her absence from the GA last night: "Mayor Jean Quan's Statement to Occupy Oakland"
I did some additional research, and now there's little doubt in my mind that the officers fingered by Occupy Oakland as the ones responsible for wounding Scott Olsen and tossing at least one and possibly more flash/smoke grenades at those who came to help him were CHP officers. I've seen CHP officers in black riot gear at the Capitol here in Sacramento on occasion, but I didn't remember their exact uniform, and I can't find any pictures I may have taken of them. But I did find this picture of a line of CHP officers in riot gear at another protest in Oakland last year (the issue was the killing of Oscar Grant at a BART station.)
That's pretty much a match for the uniforms on the officers in the Tweet from Occupy Oakland.
Further, there is this extraordinary split screen video showing the events from above and simultaneously on the ground. While it's still impossible to say exactly what hit Scott Olsen, the number of grenades and tear gas canisters seen from above is astonishing. Police were also firing "rubber bullets" and other projectiles at the same time.
The demonstrators did not provoke this response by police. The application of overwhelming force by the police was planned all along. The upshot, however, was not.
This is a global movement, and everything that the authorities say and do to squelch it is closely monitored and made immediately -- and in this case very graphically -- visible around the world. The Oakland Debacle will probably not be the last violent assault on the Occupy Movement. And we can assume that "Lessons Learned" is being debated in the Halls of Power right now.
It didn't go well for Authority in Oakland. No, not much.
Edited for clarity and to provide more information as it became available.
Additional Bay Area LOE shoulder patches:
San Francisco County Sheriff's shoulder patch:
San Ramon police department: