Saturday, October 29, 2011
While on a much smaller scale, these are Chicago '68 kinds of experiences, where even prominent social and political figures discover that they are powerless in the face of the police onslaught. Many participants in the Occupy Together effort haven't had confrontational encounters with the police like people from poorer neighborhoods and communities of color, and they are now discovering that police officers aren't necessarily your friends. Are we living through a similar process of radicalization as a result?
After a peaceful and spirited march by an estimated 1,000 protesters, most in from the suburbs, the Denver Police apparently tried to take down a food distribution stand and were met with resistance by some OccupyDenver people. As Congressman Perlmutter, and eyewitnesses that I talked to later, tell it, the DPD used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and large batons to gas, spray and beat bystanders.
Congressman Perlmutter, who had been attending a Colorado Woman’s Summit meeting in Denver, featuring Congresswoman Diana DeGette, when he got word of the confrontation right down the street, rushed down to the Civic Center Park and attempted to mediate between police and protesters. Unsuccessful in de-escalating the violence, he told us of the protesters being tear gassed, pepper sprayed and beaten. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten involved. He looked down at his immaculate brown suit, shirt and tie. And I really wasn’t dressed for the occasion.
UPDATE 2: There is now a guest post at naked capitalism (!) describing police brutality in Denver similar to what transpired in Oakland, replete with pictures of officers pointing non-lethal weapons at protesters and reporters, rubber bullet wounds inflicted upon protesters and a report that the police fired upon protesters seeking to assist the injured.
UPDATE 1: Oakland, Nashville, San Diego and, now, Denver. Contrary to what I said yesterday, it appears that the persistence of the protests and increasing grassroots liberal support has necessitated aggressive police action. All this, plus the fact that substantial numbers of people are participating in protests in cities not commonly known for dissidence. In Denver, the police provoked a confrontation by attacking protesters who ascended the capital steps without a permit.
Please consider reading this report, posted on a promising new blog, The Resistance is Online, in its entirety. Beyond this, there is the atrocity perpetrated against Scott Olsen, seriously injured by a projectile fired by the police. An officer prevented people from coming to his assistance by firing a tear gas canister at close range at them. Even now, he cannot speak. Naturally, the mayor, Jean Quan, and the police chief, Howard Jordan, expressed remorse even though they were responsible for ordering the police assault. Amazingly, Jordan was shameless enough to visit Olsen in the hospital.
Protesters were surrounded by police on 8th and Broadway, some of them being chased by police and dragged down to the ground and beaten. A protester was who was falling down was kicked by a police officer and pulled back to be beaten more and eventually zip tied and arrested. A group of protesters surrounded police and chanted, let them go! as police continued to beat protesters on the ground and jab those around with their billy clubs. The people who surrounded police attempted to grab the fallen protesters, but the force of the clubs was too much.
Screams filled the air, street signs rattled, horns and whistles blew and drums banged everywhere. The violent police officers that had beaten the fallen protesters were officially surrounded and fear could be seen in their eyes as hundreds yelled and screamed at them as there was no where for them to run or hide their faces.
After about ten minutes, police reinforcements ran on the scene, swinging at protesters with clubs and tackling some to the ground. Violence continued as protesters were scrambled throughout the intersection of 8th and Broadway. People were screaming and running everywhere in order to protect themselves from the forceful raid.
Events in Oakland are a cautionary story about the relationship between Occupy Together and the police around the country. Protesters have rightly sought to cultivate a positive relationship with law enforcement by emphasizing that the police are part of the 99%, as they have done in Sacramento, for example. By doing so, they have probably succeeded in preventing an earlier, more aggressive crackdown on the movement, as there has been public revulsion against highly publicized instances of police violence, as first occurred when a NYPD officer, Anthony Bologna, maced a group of penned protesters last month. Bologna actually reenergized a movement that was showing signs of exhaustion.
But have no doubt. If the police are ordered to clear out an encampment, they will do it. If they are ordered to do so aggressively, they will do so. If they are told to promptly resort to tear gas and flash grenades upon the emergence of any resistance, they will not hesitate. Similarly, if corporations, the federal government or wealthy campaign contributors complain loudly enough (in private, naturally), mayors will order the police into action. It doesn't matter if they are conservative, moderate or liberal, they will do as they are told, as Jean Quan did this week, and as Jerry Brown did in 2003, when he ordered the Oakland Police Department to suppress a protest against the invasion of Iraq at the Port of Oakland. Officers fired sting balls, concussion grenades and wooden dowels to clear the gates to the docks, inflicting numerous injuries.
For now, there has been no nationwide repression of the Occupy Together effort, probably because of fears that such an attempt would merely intensify it. Better to intimidate the participants through a calculated crackdown as occurred in Oakland. Interestingly, one can perceive the hidden hand of the Department of Homeland Security through the manner in which the earlier, pre-dawn arrests of those participating in the occupation was conducted. Streets all around the encampment were closed, BART service was delayed and AC Transit buses were re-routed around the area. Planning for the raid took a week, and Quan was fully informed and agreed with the decision to close the encampment. As with the peculiar police response to the BART protests in San Francisco during the summer, the Bay Area is apparently a training ground for the implementation of crowd control measures to suppress domestic unrest.