Protesters in oakland carry iraq war veteran scott olsen after he was struck in the head by a police projectile (photo: Jay Finneburgh/indybay.org)
Occupy Oakland protesters got a whiff of the weekly Palestinian experience two nights ago when a crackdown complete with tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades tore through their protest encampment. (See Adam Horowitz’s post here). The injury of Iraq War veteran and activist Scott Olsen, who is in the hospital with a fractured skull, adds to the obvious similarities seen in protest crackdowns in the U.S. and Palestine.
This is in addition to reports that the same arms firm supplies both the Oakland Police Department and the Israeli army with tear-gas.
Olsen was reportedly hit by a tear gas canister in his head, resulting in a fractured skull injury. Olsen was in a coma, although Reuters reported last night that “Olsen was breathing on his own and could undergo surgery in the next day or so.”
The scenes of blood streaming down Olsen’s face were eerily reminiscent of what happened to Tristan Anderson in 2009. An American activist from Oakland, Anderson was also struck in the head by a tear gas canister, although in his case it was fired by the Israeli army during a protest in the West Bank village of Nil’in. Anderson was in an Israeli hospital for over a year, and a sham IDF investigation declared the shooting “an act of war,” absolving their soldiers of responsibility.
These two cases, side by side, matter, and not just because of coincidence but for what it tells us.
The similarities between Olsen and Anderson’s injury (although thankfully Olsen seems to be recovering) and the force used on protesters in Oakland make clear how militarized the police in the U.S. are, as Charles Pierce points out in Esquire (h/t Liliana Segura’s Twitter):
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 “street crime units,” so beloved by, among other people, the Diallo family.) It is militarized at its highest command positions. It is militarized in its tactics, and its weaponry and, most important of all, in the attitude of the officers themselves, and in how they are trained. There is a vast militarized intelligence apparatus that leads, inevitably, to pre-emptive military actions, like the raids on protest organizations that were carried out in advance of the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Sooner or later, this militarized law enforcement was going to collide head-on with a movement of mass public protest, and the results were going to be ugly. (There already had been dry runs elsewhere, most notably in Miami, in 2003, during protests of a meeting of trade ministers.)
The militarization of the police was clearly accelerated by a “war on terror” framework, and the Olsen/Anderson injuries are the real-life, tragic consequences that these policies have. Now, an American uprising is clashing with that security-first mentality. How many more Scott Olsens will we see?