By Deirdre Griswold
Published Oct 26, 2011 6:50 PM
Despite all the nice words by U.S. officials in world forums about their support for “peaceful” protests, despite all the sympathy expressed by politicians, from President Barack Obama on down, regarding the dire conditions that have sparked the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, despite all the efforts by many demonstrators to show good will to the authorities, the riot police have now been called out in many cities and the crackdown has begun.
This violence by the state, however, has only strengthened the protesters' resolve.
The most recent struggle, as of this writing, occurred in Oakland, Calif., during the early morning hours of Tuesday, Oct. 25, and again that evening. Hundreds of riot-garbed police armed with shotguns, what they called “nonlethal pellet guns," teargas and concussion grenades stormed the people’s encampment downtown. The first attack on Frank Ogawa Plaza came at 4:45 a.m. while about 200 people were in their tents. Within half an hour, the police had cuffed and arrested more than 90 and driven the rest away from the area.
Oakland: Protest grows larger despite police violence
WW reporter Judy Greenspan in Oakland wrote that, "All of downtown Oakland ground to a halt during the attack. The police occupied the plaza all day, denying the public any access.
"Many of those arrested were held on $10,000 bail pending a Thursday arraignment. This is contrary to the cite-and-release policy usually followed during arrests at political demonstrations."
The police trashed the tent city and scattered people's belongings. When they first shut down Oakland’s Center City, they claimed they were “cleaning” the park. Buses were rerouted and downtown Bay Area Rapid Transit stations were closed for several hours as the city advised workers in that area to stay away. The police made more arrests at a smaller encampment near Lake Merritt.
Continued Greenspan: "The police attack destroyed a community kitchen that was feeding more than half the homeless people in downtown Oakland, a vibrant children’s center where community members held workshops for children and parents, and a political library dedicated to victims of police murder. Frank Ogawa Plaza had been renamed Oscar Grant Plaza to commemorate the young African American shot to death by BART police in 2009."
All this violence by the state, however, did not intimidate the protesters. After a meeting later that day held at the Oakland Public Library, they marched to City Hall. Police said that 1,000 returned for this second confrontation. The cops again cordoned off the area and viciously attacked the demonstration with tear gas and rubber bullets.
While the police claimed they were only using "beanbag pellets," Occupy Oakland posted photos of people with serious injuries to their faces and torsos from what they said were rubber bullets. Some of these stills were picked up by the New York Times blog site on Oct. 26. The Times site also contained a video posted by KTVU that clearly shows "flashbangs" coming from police lines and exploding right in the middle of the protesters, causing several young women and men to fall to the ground.
Atlanta: No to police brutality, evictions of homeless!
While this was happening in Oakland, police in Atlanta were preparing to attack the occupation there in a downtown park. WW reporter Dianne Mathiowetz wrote from Atlanta:
"An unbelievable police force was sent to clear the park tonight. I saw at least 30 motorcycle cops, the bomb squad, SWAT, 20-30 riot-geared police (helmets with face masks, batons, padding), 100 regular cops, fire trucks, 10 on horses blocking Peachtree Street and a military-style helicopter flying overhead for hours.
"The entire downtown area was cordoned off. It took half an hour to work my way in a big circle to within two blocks of the area. The arrests started a little after midnight. A couple hundred people were on the sidewalk and in the street, chanting and jeering the police. After all the protesters had been arrested and most people had left, the police began clearing the park of all the left-behind belongings, packing the stuff in big brown sacks and cardboard boxes."
Threats to clear the park had started the previous weekend. "Mayor Kasim Reed abruptly canceled a hip hop concert that had been previously scheduled for the downtown park, now known as Troy Davis Park. Occupy Atlanta had welcomed the concert organizers, who expressed their support for the protest against the banks and corporations. With the help of Occupy Atlanta, the concert went forward for several hours. The Mayor declared the event a security danger to the community and brought in police of every description, including SWAT.
"At a Monday press conference, he declared that he would at any moment order the police to clear the park, rescinding his previous statement of a Nov. 7 deadline. Many prominent and well-known Black civil rights leaders and clergy have joined Occupy Atlanta, refuting any claims that the protesters are a danger to the community. Instead, they have encouraged them to keep up the fight for economic and social justice and pledged to be arrested with them.
"In recent days, Occupy Atlanta has demonstrated several times against the killing of 19-year-old Joetavious Stafford, shot in the back Oct. 16 by a MARTA [Atlanta rapid transit] policeman. They marched to the Federal Court to denounce mass incarceration and the 'injustice' system.
"On Oct. 25 there was a demonstration at the Georgia-Pacific building focused on the Koch brothers, wealthy proponents of anti-union, anti-immigrant, right-wing legislation whose money has bought them national power. Georgia-Pacific is part of the Koch empire. Labor unions which have turned out previously to help defend the park are mobilizing for this protest as well.
"On Oct. 27, Occupy Atlanta is scheduled to march again in support of the Task Force for the Homeless, which faces efforts by the city to cut off its water. Along with the men who take shelter there, Occupy Atlanta has vowed to resist any eviction attempts."
Chicago: Arrests follow police brutality protest
The attacks on occupations in Oakland and Atlanta followed a similar sweep in Chicago on Oct. 22.
WW reporter Eric Struch wrote from Chicago that the day had started with a National Day of Protest march called by the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. After a rally that featured family members of survivors of police brutality, some 200 had marched to Grant Park, where Occupy Chicago had welcomed them. "More than 100 people were already gathered in the public area next to the Chicago Board of Trade to hear John Carlos, the famous athlete who defied U.S. imperialism by raising the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics in a show of solidarity with the oppressed Black nation in the U.S. Later, the October 22nd Coalition demonstrated in front of the Chicago Hilton and Towers on south Michigan, which was hosting a meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police."
Later that night, the police encircled the park and arrested 130 occupiers, seizing their tents, including the medical aid tent belonging to volunteers from National Nurses United. As of 6 p.m. the next day, the police were still holding 80 people.
It is no accident that these police attacks on people exercising their right to free speech all took place in cities with large African-American communities, which have long known the lash of poverty and injustice. The movement needs to respond: "An injury to one is an injury to all!" Solidarity is the only way to answer the racist, anti-worker, pro-big business state.