They came with tents, water bottles, musical instruments, and passion. Thousands of people from all walks of life came together. Old, young, Latino, white, African-American, Asian; lawyers, doctors, school teachers, students, war veterans; all joined to protest the inequality between the top 1 percent income earners and the rest of us…the 99 percent.
The Occupy movement, which started in Zuccotti Park in September 2011, spread quickly across the nation. It was a movement that energized us all. We, the people – the people who have been sitting on the sidelines watching the rich wage war on the rest. It was the biggest protest many of us, people of my generation, have ever seen and it was amazing. There was nothing more exciting than seeing our voices finally being heard.
However, the excitement didn’t last more than a couple of months before this happened:
When we tried—peacefully—to exercise our Constitutional right to assemble, we were harassed, tear-gassed, assaulted with bean bag guns and other weapons, arrested, and charged with crimes. Two innocent civilians, both Iraq War veterans, one of whom wasn’t even a participant, nearly died as a direct result of the police brutality waged against citizens legally rallying for the attention of our government.
They came at us with guns, TASERS, batons, flash-bang devices, rubber bullets, tear gas and other chemical weapons, wearing full body armor and sporting shields to protect themselves from … bottles of water, maybe some rocks, and possibly a little paint.
In some places the police were unbelievably violent in their quest to silence the Occupiers. Oakland, California was one of those places; the images and videos of the police brutality flashed on the television and spread across the internet with fury.
One of the most polarizing videos of Oakland Police Department’s (OPD) police brutality was one where bystanders tried to aid an injured protester as police shot flash grenades at them. The injured man, Scott Olsen, a two-time Iraq war veteran, suffered a fractured skull and brain swelling after he was allegedly hit in the head by a police projectile and almost died. The actions of the OPD were absolutely deplorable.
Here’s the video:
The OPD did not walk a way from this without punishment, however. This week the U.S. district court in San Francisco awarded a group of 12 protesters one million dollars after they sued the department for police brutality. The dollar amounts vary, with some protesters getting $20,000 and another getting as much as $500,000. Suzi Spangenberg, who was awarded half a million dollars explained what the Oakland Police did to her:
“I was in the middle of telling OPD I loved them when they threw explosives at me. The loud explosion caused permanent hearing loss and unrelenting ringing in my ears. As a result, I can only sleep 2 hours at a time which has had a serious impact on my life, including adversely impacting my graduate school studies, when I graduate, and when I will be ordained. It is my hope that there will never be cause for this type of lawsuit again, and the city can instead focus its resources on supporting the marginalized and those most in need of resources, which is what we were protesting for.” [Source]
The settlement was a step in the right direction for the police department and it was a victory for the movement. The actions of law enforcement officials towards the Occupy protesters across the country were atrocious. Last year theUniversity of California Davis offered each of the students who were pepper sprayed at close range by campus police $30,000. That case was also one of the more notable examples of the violence police inflicted on the protesters. The image of students being nonchalantly sprayed in their face with a chemical by a gung-ho police officer made our stomachs turn.
The monetary awards are small but at least they are an acknowledgement. The way the Occupy movement was silenced was a disgrace. It was, by and large, a peaceful movement of citizens exercising their Constitutional rights and they were stomped all over. More than money, the police and officials should look at the bigger picture and decide if that is really the way they are supposed to uphold their oath to serve this country. I would say they’re definitely doing it wrong. It is not just their job to keep us safe from criminals; it is also their job to make sure we are allowed to freely exercise our rights as Americans. That is possibly their most important task.
When people describe America, one of the first things that comes to mind is freedom. Freedom is the very foundation of this country. Freedom is an empty word, though, if those in charge do not allow us to exercise our right to freedom. Many people are angry at the government because of the NSA spying ‘scandal,’ but they forget that just two years ago our freedom was egregiously attacked. As a very wise professor of mine, Dr. Randy Gonzalez, says:
If your principle dictates liberation, independence, and truth, then sometimes you have to stand and fight for it. Otherwise, it’s just idle chatter, and no one cares.