Should Occupy Philly Prepare for Oakland-Style Police Violence? (Updated with Police Response)
During an effort to expel Occupy Oakland protesters from Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, California, police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades to get rid of the protesters. Scott Olsen, 24, a Marine veteran and member of Iraq Veterans For Peace, was critically injured, suffering a fractured skull and swollen brain. When protesters went to help him, police tossed a flash grenade into the group. Olsen’s condition has been upgraded to “fair” today, though what happened has sent a strong message to both protesters and police around the country.
Could that happen here in Philly? Some in Dilworth Plaza say yes.
“I think the Police Department in Philadelphia has a well-documented track record of being very violent and I think the reason why the police have not attacked this occupation is not because they support us,” says Jeff Rousset, a member of the Occupy Philly media team who assures us he speaks for himself and not the entire movement. “They want to avoid a PR nightmare.”
Last night, Rousset helped organize a march against the violence in Oakland, which ended at the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo. He believes many city governments – Philadelphia included – have been intentionally preparing a PR campaign to expel all Occupy protesters from around the country.
“If you look at what happened in Oakland, before the city attacked the camp, they sent a letter citing a nuisance saying there was public urination, vandalism and that’s one of the tactics that cities use as justification for police violence,” Rousset says. “The city sent us a letter a couple weeks ago that was similar to what the Occupy Oakland protesters got.”
The letter sent by the City of Philadelphia on October 11 reads, in part, “we are…beginning to experience minor deviations in the promises made to the city at the outset. Public urination, litter and several acts of graffiti have been witnessed and captured in photos today.” The letter also stated that Occupy protesters will have to accommodate the city’s plans for construction on Dilworth Plaza, beginning November 15.
Rousset believes that letter is part of a greater campaign to discredit the movement so, if need be, an attack can be launched. “I think these conversations are probably taking place on a national level, with national leaders, on how they’re going to deal with these movements,” he says. “I think we would be naïve to think the city doesn’t have well thought-out plans to deal with us.”
Not everyone agrees.
One protester, working in the Tech tent, who did not provide a name, says the police have been great. “They protect us, they block traffic for us,” he says. “I think moving to another park [when the construction begins] will be fine. I have no problem with that.”
Those in the medical tent say they’re prepared as can be for violence that some expect to unfold down the line. Medics declined to be named for this story, claiming they’re required to remain neutral in the movement, but say it’s not unreasonable to assume this could get violent the way it did in Oakland. The medic tents include both registered nurses and street medics, who are prepared to do what they can, and then call 911, should violence break out.
Occupy Philly announced through its Facebook page that it will join a nationwide 99 Minute General Strike on Wednesday, November 2, in solidarity with the Occupy Oakland protesters (who have since moved back into the park.) There has been debate over whether or not to praise or criticize the police department throughout Occupy Philly. Last weekend, some in the movement praised the PPD for the way they handled 15 protesters arrested on Saturday for blocking traffic in front of Police Headquarters.
The Philadelphia Police Department has been contacted with regard to this story. We’ll let you know if they respond. Their response is below.
“The best way to prepare is to train ourselves in nonviolence and when something like that happens, we have to demonstrate that we are peaceful,” says Rousset. “We’ve been dedicated to nonviolence since Day One. And that will continue to be our position if police move in. We have to be nonviolent and coordinated and organized to protect ourselves.”
Lt. Raymond Evers tells us there is no plan to use force to expel Occupy Philadelphia.
“We’ve been in communication with the group since it started and I think it’s quite evident with how things have been progressing over the last several weeks with the mayor’s office, the city services, the police department and the Occupy group, no matter what faction it is,” says Evers. “The contruction, that’s been planned for years and that’s been on the table since Day One, and we’re hoping for a smooth transition to wherever the group picks out as a spot for them to do their thing.”
When asked if a PR campaign was being prepared by the PPD and city government to produce negative publicity around the protests, as was alleged, Evers replies, “No.”