OAKLAND, Calif. – The amphitheater in front of City Hall was alight with twinkling candle flames on the evening of Oct. 27, as over a thousand people held a vigil for Iraq veteran Scott Olsen, seriously hurt two days earlier when he was struck in the head by a police tear gas canister.
Clare Chadwick, 20, was near Olsen as police fired tear gas and “non-lethal projectiles” at demonstrators trying to take back the plaza from which they had been evicted the night before. Chadwick told the crowd she was near Olsen after he was struck, and ran to his aid. “He was bleeding from the mouth, his eyes were rolling in the back of his head. I screamed to the police for medical assistance. They did not give it to me.”
Chadwick said, “There was nothing to provoke the police when they started gassing us.”
Fellow veteran Keith Shannon said Olsen had been working in San Francisco during the day and joining Occupy San Francisco protesters nights and weekends before coming to Oakland in solidarity with the ousted campers.
As a group of veterans stood behind them on the stage, speakers noted the irony of Olsen returning from two tours of duty in Iraq, only to be injured by police at home. One called for “solidarity with other communities in Oakland that experience egregious police violence.”
The crowd cheered when it was reported that Olsen was now conscious, his condition was improving, and he would probably not need surgery for his fractured skull, though he faces a long recovery.
Mayor Jean Quan visited Olsen in the hospital, reportedly apologizing and promising an investigation. Acting police chief Howard Jordan has promised a thorough investigation of the incident.
The amphitheater was still packed as protesters began their daily general assembly, deciding on coming actions, including one in which small groups of participants will scatter through town on Saturday, engaging Oaklanders in art projects, street theater, discussions and other activities.
Earlier in the week, Occupy Oakland participants had decided to call a general strike in the city Nov. 2.
Quan said in a statement that she was “deeply saddened about the outcome on Tuesday…Ultimately it was my responsibility and I apologize for what happened…I cannot change the past, but I want to work with you to ensure that this remains peaceful moving forward.”
Her statement noted that “some members of Occupy Oakland” want to meet with her and the police chief. “We need to have direct communications between city staff and your representatives,” she told the protesters.
Quan also called on occupiers to maintain safe and healthy conditions and allow emergency personnel access, and reiterated that the city is asking them not to camp overnight, but to use the plaza between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
So far there has been no effort to remove some 20 tents that were set up on the now cleared-out plaza grounds after protesters Wednesday night dismantled a chain link fence that police had erected.
Prior to Tuesday’s police attack, Quan and other city officials had sought unsuccessfully to meet with the occupiers. Two days before they were evicted, campers decided city officials could join the daily general assemblies by speaking as individuals.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, police called off a raid that had apparently been planned for pre-dawn hours on Thursday. Supervisors John Avalos, David Chiu, Jane Kim and Eric Mar, along with state Senator Leland Yee, were at the encampment in Justin Herman Plaza.
Occupy San Jose protesters planned a march for Friday afternoon. Several campers have been arrested as they protested city efforts to keep them from camping near City Hall. Shaun O’Kelly, 27, climbed a high wall earlier in the week and has pledged not to come down until police stop removing would-be campers. He has also sought a meeting with Mayor Chuck Reed, who has rejected the proposal.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW