Home / Fall 2011 / 2011-11-03 / Protestors meet police brutality

Protestors meet police brutality

Police attack Occupy protests in Denver. Police fire tear gas at anti-Wall Street protesters.

These two headlights glimpse into the various violent police attacks on the Occupy groups.

In Denver this past weekend, police pepper sprayed, fired rubber bullets at and arrested protesters. A total of 77 people have been arrested since the start of Occupy Denver; this past weekend, a man was pepper sprayed and then shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

One of the more violent encounters happened in Oakland on Oct. 25, where police used tear gas and bean bag rounds to disperse the 170 protesters in front of the city hall’s Frank Ogawa Plaza. Police claimed it was defense against the protesters throwing various objects like bottles at them; one protester claimed the police came out swinging batons. Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was severely injured when a projectile hit him in the head.

“To hurt the citizens you swear to protect, is, you know, a contradiction to the oath that you take as a police officer to be courteous and professional,” Sgt. Shamar Thomas, Marine Iraq War veteran, said to an RT America reporter.

Sgt. Thomas’ video gained much attention as viewers see him yelling at the police for attacking peacefully protesting protesters. Thomas comes from a long military background and has recently returned from Iraq himself.

Under the First Amendment, American citizens can peacefully assemble. While a permit is needed to march in some zones, traditional public forums such as sidewalks, street corners, public parks, city hall plazas—areas where Oakland, Denver and thousands of other Occupy protesters demonstrate at, are freedom of expression safety zones. Police are not allowed to hurt or restrict people as long as they follow these laws.

It should go without saying that police should serve to protect the people. History and recent events have shown that police officers often distort this basic purpose and use their power to their advantage. Various videos show and articles read that people were simply practicing their rights; when police counteract with such forceful methods, such as throwing people to the ground and macing a group of blocked-in protestors. All these incidences make you wonder what the police really represent.

We need the police. We need government. Tensions have risen as the Occupy movement grows and lengthens. Citizens have complained about the protesters urinating in the streets, being noisy at all hours of the day, blocking streets and defacing city property. Police are there to make sure the protesters stay within their legal rights.

A Valdosta city police officer biked along the Occupy Valdosta protest march on Oct. 14. The protesters were reminded to stay on the sidewalks, since they could not get a permit to march in the streets in time, and to not litter or deface property at any of their stops. The police officer was not forceful in the slightest, and I think I saw him talk casually to some of the protesters.

This models the ideal protest situation—peace between law abiding citizens and cops. The problem is, cops have not been sticking to their end of the deal. A driving point of the movement is governmental power corruption and misuse; the cops are feeding into that. When people are obeying their constitutional rights, you should not use any of the means at your disposal, namely grenades, guns and pepper sprays.

Movements as massive as this will bring disruption and arrests. It happened before with the anti-Vietnam War protests of the sixties, with the Civil Rights Movement of the fifties and sixties and with countries such as Egypt and Tunisia at the end of last and beginning of this year. Cities get anxious and antsy with these long-standing groups marching through their streets. Police are called in to monitor and keep things in line; however, they are not called to unnecessarily harm and maim innocent people.

The Occupy movement will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Citizens should respect public property and other citizens’ rights, while police should respect the citizens’. In the meantime, keep fighting marchers. You have come this far with your cause; don’t give up now.

As Pam McCausland, a retired Virginia third grade teacher who was a recent college graduate during the anti-Vietnam War protests, said, “It brought change then, and it will bring change again.”

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