A youth is hit by a rubber bullet during a mass protest. A group of people lift him up from the “frontline” as a tear gas canister drops in the midst of this group. I am not describing a scene from some Arab Spring demonstration, but from the U.S.'s very own Golden State where the Occupy Oakland protests turned violent last week. The police's violent reaction to the peaceful demonstrators was condemnable.
The young man that I mentioned was 24-year-old veteran and ex-Marine Scott Olsen, who had served two tours of duty in Iraq. He was not the only victim. As hundreds of baton-wielding, riot gear-clad police officers forcibly tried to evict Occupy Oakland campers from the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in the wee hours of the morning, people were roughed up, arrested and shooed away using non-lethal weapons. Although the police said this action was in self-defense, there is no real justification of using this much force against demonstrators who were merely camping peacefully.
Encouraging police brutality as a weapon of suppression is a failed tactic. The Oakland administration should have learned this lesson from Tahrir Square. As they say, better late than never. Mayor Jean Quan learned her lessons soon enough, and not only invited the protesters for talks but also gave them the go-ahead to re-occupy the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. But the damage has already been done.
The issue of police brutality, especially in this case, should not go unpunished under the garb of restoring law and order, and those responsible for ordering and carrying out this gruesome act must be brought to justice.
The "99 percent" are already wary of the growing economic disparity in society, prolonged overseas wars, drastic cuts in employee pension, health and other benefits, unemployment and growing poverty. It is also a belief among the protesters that the current system no longer works well for them. This police reaction will not ease their doubts.
Shedding light on the rising economic disparities, a Congressional Budget Office report revealed that the income of the top 1 percent of earners grew by more than 275 percent during the last three decades. It also reported that for others in the top 20 percent of the population, average real after-tax household income grew by 65 percent. By contrast, for the poorest 20 percent of the population, average real after-tax household income rose by a mere 18 percent. For the 60 percent of people in the middle of the income scale, the growth in such household income was about 40 percent.
Also, the protesters believe that a sizable chunk of the political establishment is merely a puppet with its strings in the hands of the corporate honchos who finance the presidential-election campaigns. It is a well-known fact that United States'economy has been spiraling downward ever since the mid 2000s and finally ended in the Wall Street crash of 2007. The aftershocks continued in the form of financial institutions going bankrupt through 2009.
Taxpayers' money was used to bail out these ungrateful financial institutions, which now refuse to hand out loans to those very same taxpayers. While the faithful employee was shown the door to prevent corporations from going bankrupt, the CEO still took home a multi-million dollar pay check. The recovery has been especially slow in California, which has the second highest unemployment rate in the U.S., trailing Nevada.
Coupled with this, the United States'continued wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and military operations elsewhere have bled its economy blue. The scenes of coffins wrapped in Stars and Stripes flying in by the hundreds have not been encouraging either. These people are perhaps losing faith in the ballot as an effective tool to bring an inclusive change that would usher in the equitable redistribution of wealth.
It is in this background that I see the Occupy Oakland and other such protests as a last-ditch effort to bring a change – this time not by using the ballot but by using the Freedom of Speech, Petition and Assembly guaranteed to them under the First Amendment of the United States' Constitution.
Bravo to these courageous men, women and children who are toiling hard on the streets on cold nights trying to make a difference and, most importantly, reclaim what is rightfully theirs – as is enshrined in the National Anthem.
And then the star-spangled banner in triumph shall truly wave while the land of the free remains the home of the brave.