NEW YORK (Frameshop) – It should come as no surprise that the Oakland Police Department–hurling enough rubber bullets and flash grenades to make a Columbian drug lord wince–finally raided the Occupy Oakland encampment at around 5:00am this morning. The justification for the using so much violence? According to reports, the OPD claims protesters were hurling water bottles, paint, and rocks. Within hours, Mayor Jean Quan was already praising her police department for keeping the park safe for peaceful protests.
Amidst the shock and pain of peaceful Americans attacked in their own city like an enemy army (this video captures the moment), it is crucial to note that the cocktail of violence served up by the Mayor and her police department was both physical and rhetorical.
The most obvious use of violence came in the form of grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, and arrests intended to disperse the protesters immediately and leave them with enough bruises, nausea, and fear that they would not return.
The point, here, is not “defense” of a public space, as the police and the Mayor suggest. There is no threat to the public when the public uses a public space. To suggest otherwise is authoritarian absurdity.
Rather, the purpose of the police attack was to break the will of the protesters by causing them physical harm–specifically: gas-induced vomiting, nightstick bruises, bloody eyes and ears, temporary blindness, dislocated shoulders, broken ribs. Tear gas and nightstick blows disperse a crowd, but they also leave a memory of violence that deters future assembly. Or so the theory goes.
The use of violent rhetoric by the Mayor and the police is less obvious.
Even before the dawn raid, it was necessary for the police to have a pretext for showing up in riot gear with heavy weapons to a group of people sleeping in tents. People sleeping in tents are not threatening or violent in their actions, so in order to justify attacking them, they must be defined as threatening and violent by people with prominent voices.
Enter Mayor Quan.
Although she did not carry the grenades or shoot the bullets, Mayor Quan issued the call for tear gas and initially defined Occupy Oakland as a movement full of dirty vandals–threats to public health and threats to property being one-two punch of unwarranted police escalation.
After he led the attacks, Police Chief Jordan then stepped up to fill in rest of the rhetoric–by stating that his squads used gas, bullets, and grenades to protect themselves from the water balloons, paint, and “rocks” of the protesters.
Thus, the weapons were sandwiched by a calculated PR effort to define Occupy Oakland as a group of dirty vandals threatening public safety and property to an extent that warranted military-style crackdown.
The Mayor and police chief of Oakland, thus, become the latest in a long line of American leaders to manufacture lies about peaceful Americans and then use those lies as a pretext for responding to words with guns.
I suspect Mayor Quan has not broken the spirits of Occupy Oakland, but has merely emboldened the recall effort against her.
Moreover, Oakland is now the image of police violence in response to protests against economic injustice. That image, thanks to Mayor Quan, has already circled the globe multiple times and will continue to do so as a rallying cry that will grow the ranks and steel the spines of Occupy Wall Street protesters everywhere.
Flash grenades thrown by Oakland cops at people speaking out for their right to live the American dream–that is now the image of an unjust status quo being defended with violence.