Skip to content

They shoot the wounded, don’t they?

October 26, 2011

A woman in a wheelchair is gassed by multi-unit California police in Oakland, 25 October. Image credit: Adreadonymous.

A sailor carrying a Veterans for Peace flag escapes the first round of tear gas, 25 October. Image credit: Jankyhellface. 

The only succinct way I can think of to describe the past 24 hours is: Bahroakland.

One of the most distinguishing features of the February 2011 Bahrain uprising is the way armed state forces shot already injured demonstrators and the medical workers attempting to aid them. Human Rights Watch maintains detailed dossier of attacks on healthcare professionals and injured protesters, including this 54-page report. Yesterday’s brutal assault on Occupy Oakland was more than a sinister simulacra of Bahrain. There are at least two incontrovertible cases of police firing on already injured people and those assembling to help them.

One man, himself wounded by a rubber bullet to the chest, describes what Bay Area-wide police forces did when he and others tried to help an unconscious woman lying on the street.

The police opened fire with tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd and flashbang grenades. One woman fell to the ground bleeding. She was lying their unconscious bleeding. A bunch of us ran back to try to pick her up, and when we ran back the police opened fire, a second round, hitting me […] She was already lying on the ground bleeding. And I watched a flashbang grenade land right next to her head and explode right in her face.

Following this account, a KTVU video report showed police firing upon a crowd that had come to the aid of an already unconscious, injured man.

Since then a fuller picture has emerged, including a highlighted video footage analysis by blogger Matt Kresling, which clearly shows riot police throwing a projectile (what appears to be a flash grenade) at the center of the crowd where the injured man lay. It has been revealed that his name is Scott Olsen, 24, a two-time veteran of the Iraq war who has since become an anti-war activist with Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Veterans for Peace released a statement on Olsen’s condition, which The Guardian has also reported as ‘critical’:

Veteran For Peace member, Scott Olsen, a Marine Corps veteran twice deployed to Iraq, is in hospital now in stable but serious condition with a fractured skull, struck by a police projectile fired into a crowd in downtown Oakland, California in the early morning hours of today.

I’ve yet to find a better write-up connecting the relationship between U.S. military weaponry, tactics, and mindset and large-scale urban warfare such as what was witnessed in several cities last night than this short post by Charles P. Pierce in Esquire, even as I disagree with his point about ‘libertarians’ warning us of militarization’s crushing effects or his conclusion that police (the only professional class allowed to carry a battalion of weapons on their person) are merely ‘public servants’ too. He does, however, wisely reference the infamous FTAA ‘Miami model‘ of crushing dissent (and its avatar, John Timoney, the police chief in Miami):

Make no mistake about it: The actions of the police department in Oakland last night were a military assault on a legitimate political demonstration. That it was a milder military assault than it could have been, which is to say it wasn’t a massacre, is very much beside the point. There was no possible provocation that warranted this display of force. (Graffiti? Litter? Rodents? Is the Oakland PD now a SWAT team for the city’s health department?) If you are a police department in this country in 2011, this is something you do because you have the power and the technology and the license from society to do it. This is a problem that has been brewing for a long time. It predates the Occupy movement for more than a decade. It even predates the ‘war on terror,’ although that has acted as what the arson squad would call an ‘accelerant’ to the essential dynamic. Basic law enforcement in this country is thoroughly, totally militarized. It is militarized at its most basic levels.

The California Nurse’s Association has issued a statement condemning the police blitz approved by ‘progressive’ Mayor Jean Quan: ‘Few cities have endured more pain and abandonment from the reckless behavior of Wall Street and the banks than Oakland.’ This is a sobering reminder of the sheer stupefying scale that militarism (and ultra-militarism) can embody. Just this month, Bahrain nursing union president Rula al Saffar was sentenced to 15 years in prison, one of the 20 medical workers jailed following a military trial.

Observers of yesterday’s multi-city police assaults—and I don’t wish to anodize the horror at an analytical distance: Atlanta was for years my childhood home, and the Bay Area the site of my transformative college years—called for a ‘Red Cross in America.’ I don’t think they were being sardonic or exaggerating.


UPDATE: On Twitter I was asked why I disagree about Pierce’s point about libertarians, so I will slightly elaborate. His entire quote reads: ‘To their credit, libertarians have been warning about this dangerous drift of law enforcement for longer than most people have been aware of it. Republicans have too much to gain from any get-tough strategies, and Democrats are too timid to stand against them with any real zeal. ‘ Why make a historiographic point about anti-militarism in this limited way? Is the history of U.S. anti-war organizing limited to libertarians v. the two-party system? It’s true that Pierce used a lower-case ‘l’ rather than mentioning a Libertarian party, but even this doesn’t get at the entire truth. Anti-militarism has an occluded but rather long and fascinating history in the U.S., including the women’s suffrage movement in the nineteenth century (extending into the 1920s) and the 1930s worker and radical labor struggles. Women, labor, students, and even veterans (Vietnam changed the equation single-handedly) were on the front lines, so to speak, of demanding that the state lay down its arms, and the rationality by which they made their appeals is crucial—property or individualistic rights were not preeminent in that logic.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Douglas Rice permalink
    October 26, 2011 18:08

    It’s begun in America. It’s only going to get worse from here.

  2. October 27, 2011 09:38

    Mona: Thank you for what you do. Thank you for your part in weaving these beginning strands of fresh thinking that exist in this country and presenting it in an honest and thoughtful format. As more people begin to see what is going on, and appreciate what you are doing, I hope they will take your example – and run with it in their own way.

    Love that people are connecting things to paint the picture. This is so much bigger than a few movements in various cities. These things are connected, and there is a growing sense of solidarity that is enlivening the people. We are going to do this. We are not going to stop. We are not going to fail. Whatever the media wants to make of it, let them. Most of the people involved in these aggressive nonviolent actions against the international tyranny of the US Government aren’t affected by the media. That is telling, when you consider the fact that those who decide to stop watching their televisions – and start participating in what is going on – THOSE are the people who will make the difference. THOSE are the people who will change the common perception. And hopefully, before too much longer, the media will be playing their marionette show to empty living rooms across America; televisions turned off, Mom and Dad active and involving their children in what will undoubtedly be the biggest and most successful transfer of power since 1776.

    We are declaring our INDEPENDENCE once again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: