After the dignity and inspiration of the Arab Spring, what we are now witnessing in the United States has been an inspiration to millions of people who long to have a voice in their society. Yet some city governments are ordering the use of paramilitary assault tactics against unarmed civilians engaged in constitutionally protected peaceful assembly and free expression. In Oakland, we have now seen two displays of overwhelming, deliberate, combat-style police actions against unarmed civilians exercising their basic rights.
Video has emerged clearly confirming eyewitness reports that Oakland police fired directly into crowds of unarmed demonstrators with tear gas and flash-bang grenades. Scott Olsen, now famous the world over, was shot in the face when police fired “non-lethal” rubber bullets directly at protesters’ heads, at close range. Video shows a combination flash-bang/teargas grenade being fired directly into the middle of a crowd of people attempting to tend to him as he lay bleeding on the ground.
The city of Oakland is experiencing a deep crisis of conscience, amid what appears to be the moral confusion of its administration. The mayor, who had marched with the Occupy Oakland demonstrators, has now ordered not one but two paramilitary strikes against nonviolent protesters, in which tear gas, “flash-bang” grenades, rubber bullets and powerful sonic pulses were fired directly at unarmed civilians.
There are calls for attempted murder prosecutions against some of the officers. Thousands are now demonstrating against clear violations of constitutional civil liberties, caught on video. The reaction has spread across the country, and some have questioned whether the mayor should resign.
An ex-Marine is now in the hospital, reported in critical condition, and authorities say the paramilitary tactics were justified. New video has emerged clearly showing a policeman firing directly at a group of unthreatening unarmed civilians simply attempting to assist a man injured by the attacks. To many, the crisis seems incomprehensible, even moreso because the mayor herself previously marched among them.
The most vital question, however, is how can the people of Oakland rally to the Occupy cause, without further inflaming tensions in a city where the elected government openly violates basic civil liberties? What strategy should the demonstrators adopt in order to maintain and defend their rights to peaceable assembly, free expression and to seek redress for grievances, that will allow them to show how steadfast nonviolence wins the struggle against brutal aggression?