Nationwide, allegations of police brutality have been competing with protest mantras, drum circles, and "mic checks" for the loudest voice at Occupy demonstrations.
One of the first instances, and perhaps the most catalyzing, was the video of New York Police Officer Anthony Bologna pepper spraying a group of girls for no apparent reason at an Occupy Wall Street protest on September 24, 2011.
Then there was the time an Oakland Police officer in riot gear shot 24-year-old Iraq veteran Scott Olson in the head with a less-than-lethal bullet (which fractured his skull and resulted in massive brain swelling) and then threw a flash grenade into a group of protesters attempting to help him.
The most culturally enriching, no doubt, was the fire extinguisher style pepper spraying of UC Davis students who were sitting down on campus in protest.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said the actions were "for the safety of the officers and the arrestees," but the only thing apparently secured by the event was Officer Lt. John Pike's position in one of 2011's best internet memes, "casual pepper spray cop."
The December 12 arrest of several Occupy Dallas protesters, while not brutal, was simply weird.
Locally, Occupy protesters have swallowed their share of hippie hot sauce while multiple allegations of police brutality have resulted in several hunger strikes (the longest lasting 36 days, restricting protestor John Kenney to a wheelchair) and a petition calling for the resignation of San Diego Police Chief Lansdowne.
The petition reads:
Chief Lansdowne has mishandled the Occupy San Diego Protest. He has facilitated the waste of over 2.4 million dollars in 30 days on suppressing free speech at Civic Center Plaza in San Diego.
He has ordered the macing and beating of peaceful protesters and continues to waste over $57,000 per day on intimidating, harassing, and suppressing the peaceful protest rather than protecting and serving the interests of those exercising their freedom of speech and assembly.
We the Citizens of San Diego call on Chief Lansdowne to resign his post as Chief of Police immediately.
Protester and organizer Kayla Ward was arrested on the morning of October 28, 2011 at the Civic Center Plaza along with 50 other protesters.
She relates the events as follows:
“I was in the Nurse station/tent sleeping with another woman when I woke up to sounds of equipment, boots, and a loudspeaker. [We were] surrounded by about 100 officers in riot tactical gear. The one with the loudspeaker told us that we had 7 minutes to evacuate the plaza, but they started to move in much sooner than that and [started] grabbing and beating people, and jumping and walking on tents with people still in them.
"I woke the other girl up and we decided to get out of there. As she went in one direction out of the plaza to C Street, I went the other way towards the A Street exit by Downtown Johnny Brown's. As I was quickly walking up the 4 steps to head out, lines of riot cops came from that direction and one officer told me to go the other way. When I turned around to do so, I was struck in the lower right side of my back and buttocks with a riot baton very hard 3 times.
"I thought I was ok after that, but a day later, I could not feel or move my right leg and there was a lot of swelling in my back. I've been in and out of the VA and another medical clinic. It was diagnosed as nerve damage, tissue damage, a dislocated vertebrae disc, and 2 serious hematomas. I cannot walk normally for a distance without a cane or wheelchair.”
Ward has filed a law suit against the City for the alleged abuses.
“Interestingly, a week after filing that, a San Diego detective with an El Cajon cop got out of a plain car and began questioning me after I was dropped off at home coming from the Civic Center,” Ward says. “[the detective] named Dobbs that night asked me general questions about Occupy Wall Street, if any OSD people were terrorists and if I had any past police record. It was humiliating and intrusive and not right.”
During the same raid, protester and media liason Nicole Gochmanosky was arrested and charged with “excessive noise” and “unlawful assembly”.
She recounted the events to the City Council on November 1, 2011 as follows:
“I was shackled and put into a small van with 13 other girls who were also shackled. We sat in that van for three hours while many of us continually asked for a bathroom and water. We were told there were no bathroom facilities for us to use and that we were not going to be given water. We were told that if we had to go to the bathroom, we could go ahead and go in the van, which three girls did do. I was forced to sit in that van for three hours smelling their feces and urine.
"An officer who was frustrated with me questioning what property they had of mine resorted to putting his hands around my neck while yelling to ‘shut my hole.’
"Occupy San Diego has been accused of being unsanitary and creating fire hazards many times. Having 20 girls locked in a 10-by-10 room for 12 plus hours seems like a fire hazard to me. The unsanitary and disgusting conditions in that room are some of the worst I’ve ever experienced in my life, and that was not being experienced at Occupy San Diego.
"In a court of Law we are supposed to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Last week, I was treated like a criminal for being detained while peacefully assembling to address [issues] such as my government. Forget the fact that what I was doing was not even a crime, but at the very least, I haven’t even had my day in court yet and am already being treated as though I am guilty.
"The guards and officers participating in enforcing our laws and running our prisons need to be investigated and a system or process put in place to ensure their positions of power are not being used corruptly.”
The November 12 arrest of 28-year-old Robert O’Grady also caused a stir among protesters, who allege that O’Grady was choked “until he turned blue.”
A witness recounted the events as follows:
“At around 2:30AM my friend Robert walked into the Civic Center Plaza. He went about 30 feet away from our group and laid out a sleeping bag. He zipped himself in and stayed still. I was laying down at the time. Within 4 minutes two cops approached him, and told him to get up. He asked why. They didn’t answer. They said he couldn’t be in a sleeping bag, so he unzipped himself and laid on top of it. They said he couldn’t be laying down in a sleeping bag, so he sat up. Then they told him to stand up. He asked why. I continually asked the police what laws he was violating. They would not answer. The other people I was with also asked questions, demanded answers and were given none.
“As Bob was sitting on his sleeping bag in the process of standing up the cops grabbed him and put him under arrest. Three cops had him and he was saying ‘I’m up! I’m up! I’m not resisting!’ when one cop decided to put him in a choke-hold and take him to the ground. The cop choked him for over 30 seconds while he was on the ground, until Bob literally turned blue. We were screaming at the cops telling him to stop. The cop was visibly suffocating Bob and it was absolutely terrifying. It was blatant police brutality, and excessive force. They cops were on top of him crushing him, while one of them choked him for half a minute. There is nothing okay about this. This is on video.
"They continued to hold him on the ground and the pulled him away in handcuffs, holding his arms as high as they could behind his back inflicting the most pain they possibly could on him. He screamed in pain, and told the cops they were hurting him and they did not stop. They walked him over a minute in this painful position, twisting his hands, arms, shoulders and neck.”
After being apprehended by police, O’Grady was found to be in possession of narcotics without a prescription and was arrested.
O’Grady’s $5000 bail was posted with donated money.
More like this:
- Three Arrested at Occupy San Diego; SDPD Sgt. "Was Hearing Voices" — Dec. 30, 2011
- Occupy San Diego Protester on Hunger Strike Arrested — Dec. 10, 2011
- Occupy San Diego Protester Joins Hunger Strike in Response to Alleged Police Brutality — Dec. 6, 2011
- Occupy San Diego Activist Arrested Over Voter Registration Table — Nov. 29, 2011
- Man Choked, Arrested at Occupy San Diego — Nov. 12, 2011