While the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York on September 17 captured the imagination of the world for its reliance on non-violent civil disobedience, recent weeks have seen the centre of gravity of the protests move to Oakland, California, where the unprecedented scale of violent repression by police has stunned the nation.
Searing criticism was levelled at the Oakland police and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan on October 26 after a particularly vicious attack by police on Occupy protester and Iraq veteran Scott Olsen (24), who was hospitalised for a fractured skull and brain swelling when he was hit by a “police projectile,” possibly a teargas canister.
The violence continued this week when several general strikes by the protesters were greeted with mass arrests and tear-gas deployment by the Oakland police. Earlier, police were also alleged to have used other non-lethal weapons to quell the growing protests in the city, including rubber bullets, baton rounds and flash-bang grenades.
Three separate instances of police resorting to teargas use were observed on Wednesday after protesters, allegedly numbering over 30,000, led the general strike in the city and managed to shut down the Oakland's port and downtown areas.
While Oakland police were said to be under a formal investigation over the incident involving Mr. Olsen, earlier this week the Oakland Police Officers' Association issued an open letter to the citizens of Oakland in which it criticised Ms. Quan and her administration for the handling of the protests.
The letter reportedly noted that while on October 25 Mayor Quan had ordered the police to clear out encampments at Frank Ogawa Plaza the police were compelled to do so despite being fully aware that past protests in Oakland had resulted in rioting, violence and destruction of property.
In a statement of solidarity with the Occupy protesters, the OPOA said in its letter, “We, too, are the 99 per cent fighting for better working conditions, fair treatment and the ability to provide a living for our children and families.”