Yesterday morning I felt as if I had woken up in a Middle Eastern police state. In a pre-dawn raid, several hundred police in riot gear tore through Oakland’s Frank Ogawa plaza to disperse the peaceful Occupy Oakland demonstrators. One first-hand report noted;
“It was brutal. Over 300 police in full riot gear fired tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bombs. [..] Then they started pushing us back with barricades and when we didn’t move as fast as they wished, they began grabbing people and trying to drag them over the fences. There was a struggle and then they came from behind the barricades swinging clubs and arresting everyone they could get their hands on… Slamming their faces into the concrete… many of them women. I barely got away. [..] They DESTROYED EVERYTHING in the camp… this was no eviction.”
This is the same camp that I’d seen just a week earlier where people had set up a food kitchen, information kiosk, media tent powered by bicycle, and a medical tent. (Short video here.) They held informal caucuses to discuss politics and corporate policy, speeches, and sing-alongs. After the raid it looked as if a cyclone had blown through.
Last night the violence continued as the Oakland PD used tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, and flashbangs to break up protesters who had marched through the streets, and yet denied doing so this morning. They made it seem like a minimal police action by saying;
“At approximately 7:45pm, officers began to deploy gas after issuing the order to disperse. We have received no reports of injuries at the time of this release.“
Following that understatement, the police report then goes into a scripted Q&A with such highlights as;
“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.“
The bogus Q&A goes on;
“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.“
(SF Chronicle coverage)
Lastly, the Oakland PD’s grossly inaccurate Q&A states;
“Q. Where there any injures? A. At this time, there are no reported injuries.“
The biggest counter to this innocent claim is the fact that Scott Olsen, a 24 year old US Marine Veteren who survived two tours in Iraq lies less than a mile away from me in Highland Hospital with a fractured skull and brain swelling after he was hit in the head by a bean bag round during the clashes yesterday. He’s currently in “a critical yet stable condition”.
(Huffington Post coverage)
One brave young woman via the Occupy Oakland FB page, Chelsea Lohr, was also hurt last night;
“I work in an East Oakland preschool. I occupy Oakland for those kids. Those kids that I see, hug, play with, feed, read to, teach. I’ll do anything I can so those kids don’t have to grow up to be adults in a city where money owns everything and cops fire at innocent people. I was hit by some sort of shrapnel tonight, I’m hurt. I can’t go to work tomorrow to say hi to my little friends, mi amigitos, because when I did what I could to change their world- the cops blasted me, us, back. I’ll be back downtown tomorrow, though. On crutches if I have to. Because while being there in class with them matters a lot, Occupying Oakland matters most for those kids.“
I spoke with her afterwards and she elaborated even further;
“When I first witnessed these 3 and 4 year olds playing ‘cops’ (one child chases the others and pins them to the ground with their arms behind their backs) it really began to hit me how significant these kids’ futures are. Many of these children and their parents are Oakland natives or longtime residents. Their lives are spent largely in and out of poverty, their neighborhoods have all the bad stuff we hear about on the news. When kids create a game out of their understanding of police brutality…that is something worth marching about!
I’ve been going almost every day after work, since the first day of Oakland’s Occupation. Some days at the camp I felt discouraged by stories of people feeling uncomfortable, or seeing public drinking. But each day there was something someone said that redeemed it for me, that reminded me why I was there. Last night was insane. Nothing that happened in the camp or in the protests can compare to or warrant that nightmare. All night I was noting how many elderly people and children and dogs were out marching and I was thrilled “This is great! There are even more diverse faces than before, everyone’s getting out in support!”. Then came time for the running and screaming and I of course worried where those kids were, hadn’t the police seen them? Or the people in the wheelchairs? I knew that they must have. That was the truly, truly scary part.“
The lies that the Oakland PD is propagating about their use of violence can’t stand up to eyewitness accounts and the spread of truth by word of mouth, digitally or otherwise. In the span of 48 hours, Oakland has made the world’s headlines, even being covered by Al Jazeera. Cities throughout the U.S. and abroad have publicly voiced their solidarity.
To have this happening in my own backyard, listening to shouts and sirens and helicopters outside my window, feels like a very surreal dream.