As two activists who have called Oakland home, we are appalled at the events of our city in the last 36 hours. Last night the country joined us to watch in anguish as the Oakland Police Department, with back up from a dozen law enforcement agencies from around the region, used excessive levels of force against hundreds of mostly peaceful Occupy Oakland protesters. In a city with a long and painful record of police violence, it is especially disturbing to witness scenes of women, children, the elderly, and the disabled under assault by rubber bullets and tear gas.
This kind of crackdown is bad for our democracy, and it's bad for public safety. Mayors and police chiefs at Occupy sites across the country should take note: this is the wrong way to respond to the Occupy movement.
Oakland, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation, is a true reflection of the 99%. For this reason, the Occupy movement stands directly for the people of Oakland -- so many of whom have lost their homes, lost their jobs, and lost the services they rely on. Our city's unemployment rate is over 10%. People are angry. Let us not forget that this frustration and anger is real and justified.
Oakland also has a rich history of protest and political action. Occupy Oakland builds upon this legacy. Sitting at lunch counters and burning bras were symbolic political acts of previous generations, acts which we now celebrate as part of American history. The Occupy protests should be allowed to continue, as should all political expressions protected under our Constitution's First Amendment.
Therefore it is even more embarrassing and unfathomable that the City would so badly miss the mark in its treatment of Occupy Oakland.
Let us be clear: there is no justification for the use of violence against a non-violent protest. The vast majority of people were peacefully marching and demonstrating. The police department and the mayor should apologize for an inexcusable use of excessive force. And they should publicly commit to ending these tactics immediately
Finally, let us remember what the Occupy movement is actually about. Regrettably, the City of Oakland's mis-step last night shifted the focus to a "police vs people" narrative, distracting from the real problem: the big banks and corporations responsible for causing our economic crisis.
The Occupy movement is powerful, not because it is fighting for the rights of a few hundred people to sleep outdoors, but because it is fighting for the right of millions of Americans to sleep indoors. These excessive responses from law enforcement, from Atlanta to Oakland, not only violate the law, but take our collective eye away from the economic violence occurring daily in this country.
Today, the mayor and police department should apologize. And they should apologize loudly and sincerely. And then tomorrow, they should join us all in fighting for the 99%.
P.S. Our hearts and prayers go to Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen who was injured after being hit in the head with a police projectile at the Occupy Oakland rally 10/25/11. Olsen is a member of Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW). We encourage people to send donations to IVAW who are currently accepting donations for Olsen and his family.