Occupy Wall Street: Where We At

“Q. Did the police deploy rubber bullets, flash-bang 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. Were there any injuries? A. At this time, there are no reported injuries” ““ Oakland Police Department

Back when the Occupy Wall Street protests started, many were inherently skeptical of the movement, for a multitude of reasons. I, too, found myself cautious, yet supportive, and as time went on, increasingly conflicted by many aspects of the movement. One night, as I was sitting at a bar with a friend, I asked him, “Well, what do you think of all this?” He replied very matter of factly, “I’ll get involved when there is blood in the streets.”

Is that applicable now?

In the city known for police violence, with still fresh memories of Oscar Grant’s brutal murder bubbling at the surface, Oakland has made serious headlines with regards to the Occupy movement this week. On Tuesday evening, Oakland police attempted to remove protestors from the Oscar Grant encampment outside of City Hall. Currently, the clash is being presented in outlets like TIME and the Washington Post as instigated by protestors, though there are many witnesses who would fundamentally disagree. The confrontation began at 5:00 on Tuesday morning, when 500 police moved into the OG encampment with armored vehicles and ransacked it with flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets, mostly hoping to disperse protestors. From the Oakland Tribune:

Police in riot gear, armed with billy clubs, entered the camp and overturned tents and the campers’ wooden stalls quickly. What was left looked like a hurricane-struck refugee camp. They ripped up dozens of cardboard signs, overturned a couch and when it was over there were scraps of carpet, personal belongings and trash all over the plaza. Tear gas was used, as well as beanbag rounds, to subdue protesters according to Police Chief Howard Jordan.

Which, from this policy that was passed in 2004, seems vaguely contrite.

More than 70 people were arrested, but remaining protestors quickly set up another camp at Snow Park. Later that evening, protestors marched to Frank Ogawa plaza (named Oscar Grant park by Occupy Oakland), in an attempt to take back the original campsite. Around 8 p.m., police again surrounded marchers and are said to have stated they allegedly gave protestors “repeated warnings” to disperse. Police then fired tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets into the crowd. If one were tempted to think that perhaps this was only Oakland’s problem, other reports began coming that same evening  when SWAT teams were sent into Occupy Atlanta’s Troy Davis Square, where among the arrested was State Sen.Vincent Fort. When arrested, Fort said of the issuance to disperse by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed,”He’s using all these resources”¦ This is the most peaceful place in Georgia. At the urging of the business community, he’s moving people out. Shame on him.“

Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland’s first Asian-American female mayor, also came under fire for her seemingly sanctioned reaction to the polices actions against Occupy Oakland, a claim to which she has now responded. From the Andrew Gumbel at The Guardian:

“In an afternoon news conference [Oakland mayor Jean] Quan had struggled to explain the decision to clear the square in the early hours of Tuesday morning and again when protesters returned that evening.

She gave the impression she had been as blindsided as anyone by the decision to close down Occupy Oakland. She had been in Washington at the time and said that although she knew there were hygiene and public safety issues that needed to be addressed, she did not expect that to happen while she was on the other side of the country. ‘I only asked the chief to do one thing: to do it when it was the safest for both the police and the demonstrators,’ she said, pinning responsibility for the decision on her police chief and the top city administrator. When pressed for more details, Quan said: ‘I don’t know everything.'”

Quan has spoken out against the most recent display of force, citing her own harassment by Oakland police, yet many remain skeptical about Quan’s feigned support. With most of the country watching these acts in real time, Occupy Oakland is not only gaining empathy due to the police department’s failure to properly deal with protestors by means other than excessive force, but also equally highlighting the cities own serious political and budget woes. The same day that protestors were met with force, Oakland Unified School District voted on closing five schools. In early October, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts resigned stating that “a burdensome ‘bureaucracy’ left him without enough power to fight crime and build community trust in his department.” This claim comes as no surprise, mostly due to notorious reputation that the Oakland PD holds. From Roberto Lovato at Colorlines:

Quan and Jordan [Oakland interim Police Chief Howard Jordan]
are in the throes of dealing with a police department plagued by officer-involved shootings and killings, corruption and other crimes–crimes that have forced a federal consent decree to reform the department, after officers were convicted of planting evidence and beating suspects in West Oakland. Taking her cue from the Obama campaign of 2008, Quan announced Jordan’s appointment at a public safety forum titled “Creating Hope in the Community.”

Internal problems aside, one of the most troubling incidents coming out of the recent protests is the brutalization of 24-year-old Scott Olsen, a member of Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and a two tour Iraq war veteran. Olsen was hit in the head by an as of yet unidentified object after police used a projectile cannon to shoot tear-gas canisters and beanbags into the crowd. Olsen is currently in a medically induced coma after suffering a fractured skull and brain swelling, and is said to be in critical condition. Below, video footage shows fellow protestors rushing to Olsen’s aide, only to have a police officer throw a flash grenade into the helping crowd in an attempt to scatter those who have come to his aid. (Update: Olsen is awake and alert after being unconscious for 12 hours.)

(Trigger warning for videos: graphic depiction of violence)


“We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove. Separately, we received requests from a different local law enforcement agency for removal of videos allegedly defaming law enforcement officials. We did not comply with those requests, which we have categorized in this Report as defamation requests” ““ Google Transparency Report on the past six months 70% increase in requests from  local law enforcement agencies to remove YouTube videos of police brutality.

As of now, a general strike has been scheduled in Oakland for November 2nd. It will be the first nationwide strike since 1946, initiated by none other than the city that began it back then: Oakland.

“Occupy Wall Street has electrified many thousands of people and is bringing together the forces that can be part of struggles on another scale, as in Greece or Egypt. But whether those forces develop depends a lot on what activists do now. It’s time to step up the struggle. In every city and town, there are teachers who are under attack, foreclosures mounting, instances of police violence. The Occupy movement can be a part of responding.” ““ Socialist Worker, People of Color Organize 

With each week that passes, I wrestle in between two heavy places, contradicting myself with each new bit of information I read, experience, or witness from this thing. On one hand is the hesitancy that occurs when I hear experiences like Reena Walker’s, CrunkLife’s, Himanshu Suri’s, Greg Tate’s or members from People of Color Organize . I am conflicted when I hear stories of sexual harassment and assault or misogynistic behavior. I am conflicted when as  share my own. I am conflicted in why the women involved are having to take stands. I am conflicted because oftentimes, my behavior and my presence has more potential to be harmful than to be harmed. I am conflicted because there is much to take into consideration.

“Whether or not we agree that anything at all in modern society needs to be changed, we must at least come to understand that the Occupiers are not just another political movement, nor are they simply lazy kids looking for an excuse not to work. Rather, they see the futility of attempting to use the tools of a competitive, winner-takes-all society for purposes that might better be served through the tools of mutual aid. This is not a game that someone wins, but rather a form of play that is successful the more people get to play, and the longer the game is kept going. They will succeed to the extent that the various models they are prototyping out on the pavement trickle up to those of us working on solutions from the comfort of our heated homes and offices. For as we come to embrace or even consider options such as local production and commerce, credit unions, unfettered access to communications technology, consensus-based democracy, we become occupiers, ourselves.” Douglas Rushkoff

On the other hand, I am not conflicted about what this thing means and what it has the potential to do.  To think that it is invalid or something I shouldn’t or won’t participate in is not something I can sign off on completely, especially when my own financial struggles stare me down everyday, compounded cyclical reminders of my mothers financial struggles, as well as her mothers struggles, and so on and so on.  I approach with hesitancy each time, knowing only that I know so little. I flinch at the cheers of “Occupy the World” (we pretty much do) or “Debt-slave” (no– please see Kenyon Farrow). I shudder at the all to eager  christening of Julian Assange by Occupy London, and I find myself questioning what being a cohesive movement mean when the stories of those who cannot get 100% behind come out in full force.  I am cautious, yet hopeful. I know that there is so much to be done and it is overwhelming in its urgency. I do not know where else to go except forward.

If you would like to help Scott Olsen, you can make a donation at Iraq Veterans Against The War.

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