What Happened In Oakland

What Happened In Oakland

A Few Thoughts

Here's a video of the violence in Oakland, and a few thoughts.

One- this is a tremendous show of force in order to protect “property rights” in an empty building no one is using for anything. It is estimated that one billion of the world's seven billion people are currently squatters. Squatting on unused “private property” was a central issue of many peasant rebellions in medieval Europe, and for good reason. If a man can legally “own” property he isn't using for anything while others have no roof over their heads at all, then something is very wrong. The state's determination to protect this unjust situation with such an extreme show of force says volumes about its real priorities. Is Occupy trying to destroy “property rights”? I would argue that we are not, but that there is no legitimate property right to an unused building. If a building is lying vacant, let it be claimed by those who need it.

Two- only a small minority of protesters engaged in violence, but the others cannot be considered completely blameless because they did not attempt to prevent the violence from happening. This was not a perfectly non-violent march. Protesters can be seen throwing various objects at the police.

 

Three- the level of violence used by the protesters was very much lower than the level of violence used by the police.

Four- most, but not all of the violence used by protesters was reactive. For instance, when the police fired tear gas canisters at the protesters, some canisters were picked up and thrown back. To condemn that kind of activity seems more than a bit skewed to me. At that point in the protest, no one was throwing anything until the police attacked. The police fired on the march using so-called “less lethal” weapons. Since when are the police allowed to simply open fire into a group of marchers, whether their weapons are “less lethal” or not? Are people not allowed to protect themselves from a criminal assault?

 

Five- protesters in Black Bloc noticed that a comrade was wounded on the ground. At great risk to themselves, they surrounded her and attempted to protect her so that street medics could render assistance. I am no fan of the Black Bloc, but in this instance their courage and solidarity under fire stands in sharp contrast to police behavior. The police deliberately fired on them as they tried to help an injured person.

 

Past violence by the Oakland Police Department and its allies have resulted in a situation of intense distrust and escalating confrontation. While I do not support the actions of the Black Bloc within Occupy Oakland because they are not committed to nonviolent struggle, there is still no comparison between the actions of the protesters and the actions of the police. The police are professionals, trained in resolving and de-escalating conflict. The protesters are just ordinary people improvising under pressure. So why is it that the actions of the police have been marked by deliberate brutality, while those of the vast majority of protesters have been relatively restrained?

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