As equally as the Occupy movement has spread globally, so too have police actions to disrupt occupiers in the name of enforcing local ordinance regulations.
Bay Area Rapid Transit police stormed Occupy Oakland dispersing occupiers using teargas grenades and so-called ‘less-lethal’ munitions. There are also unconfirmed reports of flash grenades and the LRAD sonic weapon (aka the ‘sound cannon’) being used. Mayor Jean Quan ordered the removal of occupiers amidst fears for health and safety resulting from insufficient sanitation.
There were many reports of injuries resulting from the police action, in particular serious injury to Iraq veteran, Scott Thomas Olsen. Olsen was taken to hospital in a critical condition with a skull fracture and possible brain damage after being shot in the face with a tear-gas canister. Olsen had served two tours of duty in Iraq was a member of Veterans for Peace. A Navy veteran and fellow Veteran for Peace expressed his frustration at the tragic irony of Olsen’s injuries:
it’s absolutely unconscionable that our citizens are going overseas to protect other citizens just to come back and have our own police hurt them.
Furthermore, questions about the relative harm stemming from public health concerns in the camps versus the use of ‘less-lethal’ munitions and teargas grenades must be asked. If the concern is genuinely for the safety and sanitation of occupiers surely it would be cheaper and less harmful to bring in portable toilets and fresh water? I make this suggestion only to point to what seems like a thin veneer of rhetorical justification covering an excuse for forcefully breaking up occupations. These are discretionary local ordinances that don’t have to be invoked. This is an issue not unique to Oakland.
A second, more complex question is ‘from exactly is this pressure on local councils to disperse occupations coming from?’ The answer to this is much complex than simply suggesting they are subject to the whim of federal governments or ‘big business’. The occupiers despite – or perhaps because of – their commitment to non-violence, their unarticulated claims, and at times unkempt appearance, are part of global movement that seems to represent a challenge to procedural normality of governance structures.
The ‘internalisation’ of these wider pressures by local officials is something that will be returned to in future posts.
This is part of a series of posts on the Occupy movement.