Occupy Oakland regroups; injured Iraq war veteran recovering
Flowers and thousands of cards for recovering Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen -- whose injury during a confrontation with police has become a national rallying point for Occupy movement protesters -– have flooded Oakland’s Highland Hospital.
Meanwhile, in Oakland’s city center, about three dozen tents had sprung up by Friday morning on the lawn where an Occupy encampment was razed earlier in the week. That mirrored action in San Francisco, where city officials had removed tents only to see them return.
“For every action there’s a reaction,” Saiid Shabazz, 35, of Oakland, said of the razing of the camp early Tuesday and the massive protests that followed. "The people are going to continue to use this camp as a training facility, an educational facility, a healing facility and a place to live facility.”
Olsen, 24, a Marine lance corporal who served two tours of duty in Iraq, suffered a skull fracture when he was struck during the Tuesday night protest by a projectile fired by police officers.
Highland Hospital spokesman Curt Olsen -- no relation -– said Scott Olsen was experiencing pressure on a lobe of his brain that controls speech, but “he is able to understand everything that is said to him” and can write. Doctors do not anticipate a need to operate and are optimistic about his recovery, Curt Olsen said.
“He’s surprised by it,” the spokesman said. “He doesn’t really understand why everyone is making such a big deal of it.” Olsen “lit up” when his parents arrived at his bedside, the spokesman said. His condition was upgraded Thursday from critical to fair.
Hundreds of officers in riot gear arrived from more than a dozen regional departments Tuesday night to try to control a crowd gathered in opposition to the dismantling of the Occupy Oakland encampment. The clearing of the camp earlier that day had resulted in about 100 arrests.
The crowd was largely peaceful. But when some in the crowd of protesters started throwing bottles, rocks and paint, police responded with tear gas and other projectiles -– including what appeared to be rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades.
Olsen, who lives in Daly City and works as a systems analyst, is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He had spent many nights at the Occupy SF encampment and was in the Oakland crowd with other vets Tuesday to show his support.
Video shows Olsen lying crumpled on the ground as tear gas billows. An apparent concussion grenade or “flash bang” grenade then explodes as others are trying to help him.
Oakland Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said his department does not use rubber bullets -– they were banned after protesters opposed to the Iraq war were injured in a 2003 demonstration -- but are investigating whether other assisting departments used them. Jordan also said that the “gas balls” his department uses are rolled, not launched overhead. But video shows airborne projectiles.
Jordan and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan have vowed an investigation into Olsen’s injury and all other claims of excessive force. City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said the body will meet Thursday to discuss the incidents and “evaluate next steps moving forward. "As Oakland’s citywide councilmember, I will be proposing to reclarify city policy so that we do not allow the firing of dangerous projectiles into crowds of peaceful protesters,” she said in a statement.
Quan visited Olsen in the hospital Thursday and sought to address the group’s evening general assembly. But Shabazz said that when she attempted to do so before her turn, she was booed. She then left.
“There were more people who did want to hear her speak than didn’t,” Shabazz said. “But we could not overrule the procedure and put her first.”
Quan issued a statement to demonstrators late Thursday, thanking them for Wednesday night’s “peaceful protest,” when about 1,000 people gathered in the plaza and many later marched through city streets.
“I cannot change the past, but I want to work with you to ensure that this remains peaceful moving forward,” said Quan, a longtime activist who said she supports the main points of the Occupy movement but felt that health and safety concerns and poor communication had left the city no choice but to remove the encampment.
Quan said she and Jordan would meet with members of the group and asked that they maintain “healthy and safe conditions,” and give public safety employees “access when there is an emergency.”
She also asked demonstrators “not to camp overnight,” a request that was flouted.
A young man dozed on a mattress on the plaza lawn Friday morning amid a sea of new tents. A fresh “Kid Zone” awning was erected to replace the one torn down earlier in the week.
The movement is expected to get a boost at 3 p.m. when filmmaker Michael Moore joins the protesters at the plaza along with representatives of the California Nurses Assn.
-- Lee Romney in Oakland
Photo: Candles surround a picture of Scott Olsen at a vigil in his honor. Credit: Kimberly White / Reuters