Last week, I went to Frank Ogawa Plaza to visit the encampment at Occupy Oakland and talk to some of the protesters, organizers, and participants in what has become one of the most controversial Occupy locations on the west coast. The Occupy Oakland encampment has been thrust into the national discussion about the Occupy Movement for its frictional relationship with the Oakland Police Department. The rift between the encampment and OPD grew larger on Tuesday October 25th when riot gear officers attempting to break up a small group of protesters shot tear gas into a small crowd. These officers are accused by the Occupy Oakland movement of brutality, including the disputed targeting of Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, who was shown on video clearly being injured by a projectile during the tear gas deployment. The video footage has been seen by millions on you tube and the story is still being covered by the major news media networks. Scott Olsen is currently recovering from his injuries and shared his first statement since the incident, through his Google + social media account on November 13th.
“I’m feeling a lot better, with a long road in front of me. After my freedom of speech was quite literally taken from me, my speech is coming back but I’ve got a lot of work to do with rehab. Thank you for all your support, it has meant the world to me. You’ll be hearing more from me in the near future and soon enough we’ll see you in our streets!”
The Incident involving former marine Scott Olsen has rallied many to participate in the movement after being on the fence when it all began. At the Occupy Oakland encampment, I had a chance to speak with former soldiers and veterans, who were there to offer support to the movement and voice their concerns over what they see is happening to their beloved country. David Bischel, a U.S. Army veteran who also served time in Iraq started a face book fan page titled Hey Washington D.C. you’re all Fired. Mr. Bischel discussed his motivation for joining the Occupy Movement.
“I’ll tell you what really motivated me to get out here was what went down on Tuesday morning, when that whole deal went down, and the police went…stepped way out of line, and then a fellow Iraq veteran went down, I was in Iraq from 03’-04’ and it was just time for me to break out my Iraq desert camo top and get down here and represent and stand shoulder to shoulder with the people.”
David’s words had a striking familiarity with me, as I am also a former soldier and disabled veteran, having served in the U.S. Army from 93’-97’. We spoke of the military and the similarities to the law enforcement community. Being a former military policeman, Mr. Bischel knew all too well on just how similar these professions are. He had some thoughts on the police, who financially speaking, are also part of the 99%, and the realization that their interests also lie with the movement.
“You know, I can’t wait till a police officer actually refuses an unlawful order. That was an unlawful order to do what they did and to come down on the innocent, peaceful, un-armed, protesters. You would think that they… that the protesters had axes and pitchforks and machetes and grenades and they had none of that, but the police response, it was, it was crazy.”
It would be worth noting that back in 2010, the City of Oakland, was experiencing budget woes and police department layoffs were part of that solution. When Oakland Mayor Jean Quan took office, she re-hired some of those laid off police officers. Although many protesters agree that the reaction and response by the police was overwhelming and bordered on brutality, not everyone is harboring anger towards the Oakland Police Department or the officers in general. The subject of their camaraderie with the movement and inclusion in the 99% is still being hotly debated. Brandon Waloff, an Oakland resident who was there to voice his opinion, shared some thoughts with me about the Oakland Police Department.
“These police officers I mean, they have family they have kids, they are only doing what they know. So I think a little more compassion and a little more understanding on how we can effectively separate the 99% from the 1%, but right now the 1% is looking at this and their laughing because we’re just fighting each other.”
Lou Brown, a revolutionary communist who was there to embrace the differences of opinion, posed a question regarding the inclusion of the police into the 99%.
“Is it true that the police are part of the 99% who are supposed to help us or are they the brutal enforcers of a brutal system, and always have been?”
No matter what side of the debate you are on and what your feelings are regarding the protesters, it seems that cities and municipalities around the country share one sentiment. Get Out! The beginning of this week saw many Occupy movements forced out by swat teams and riot geared police. On Monday morning Nov. 14th, where I first spoke with David, Brandon, and Lou, the Oakland Police raided the Occupy Oakland encampment and evicted those within the plaza, citing health and safety concerns.
Who exactly will come to the rescue of America’s health and safety, remains to be seen?