At Occupy Oakland It's Police Who Are Breaking the Rules

A 2004 court settlement was supposed to protect protesters from law enforcement, which agreed to stop throwing projectiles into crowds

You've probably heard about the Iraq War veteran who suffered a fractured skull at the Occupy Oakland protest when police started firing metal projectiles in order to disperse the crowd. As yet, we don't know whether the injured young man was intentionally or inadvertently hit. In the video above, however, we can see how a police officer reacted when the man was lying bloodied and unconscious on the ground. As concerned citizens surrounded him and sought medical assistance, the police officer threw a tear gas canister into the middle of the group.

At minimum, that police officer should be fired. Two weeks ago, in response to another instance of police brutality, I wrote that "if anyone, whether police officer or civilian, needlessly and premeditatively disperses pepper spray to incapacitate people who present no threat to anyone, the arrest should be swift, the charge assault, and the perpetrator convicted and jailed." The act in the video above is much more serious. It could've killed the man laying on the ground, or seriously injured the folks trying to help him. And it clearly violates official police policy.

We know that because, after mistreating anti-war protesters in 2003, the Oakland Police Department was sued, and ultimately agreed to a legally binding settlement that included these crowd control policies (emphasis added):

Non Hand-Held Crowd Control Chemical Agents

a. Crowd control chemical agents are those chemical agents designed and intended to move or stop large numbers of individuals in a crowd situation and administered in the form of a delivery system which emits the chemical agent diffusely without targeting a specific individual or individuals.

b. Chemical agents can produce serious injuries or even death. The elderly person or infant in the crowd or the individual with asthma or other breathing disorder may have a fatal reaction to chemical agents even when those chemical agents are used in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations and the Department's training. Thus, crowd control chemical agents shall be used only if other techniques, such as encirclement and multiple simultaneous arrest or police formations, have failed or will not accomplish the policing goal as determined by the Incident Commander.

c. Members shall use the minimum amount of chemical agent necessary to obtain compliance.

d. Indirect delivery or crowd dispersal spray and/or discharge of a chemical agent shall not be used in demonstrations or other crowd events without the approval of a supervisor or command officer.

e. Chemical agents shall not be used for crowd control or dispersal without first giving audible warning of their imminent use and giving reasonable time to the crowd, media, and observers to disperse.

f. If chemical agents are contemplated in crowd situations, OPD shall have medical personnel on site prior to their use and shall make provision for decontamination and medical screening to those persons affected by the chemical agent(s).

Hand-thrown chemical agents or pyrotechnic gas dispersal devices

a. Hand-thrown chemical agents or pyrotechnic gas dispersal devices shall not be used for crowd control or crowd dispersal without the approval of a supervisor or command officer.

b. The use of hand-thrown chemical agents or pyrotechnic gas dispersal devices may present a risk of permanent loss of hearing or serious bodily injury from shrapnel. Said devices shall be deployed to explode at a safe distance from the crowd to minimize the risk of personal injury and to move the crowd in the direction that will accomplish the policing objective.

c. Hand-thrown chemical agents or pyrotechnic gas dispersal devices shall not be used for crowd control without first giving audible warnings to the crowd and additional reasonable time to disperse.

d. Hand-thrown chemical agents or pyrotechnic gas dispersal devices shall be used only if other techniques such as encirclement and mass arrest or police formations have failed or will not accomplish the policing goal as determined by the Incident Commander.

The officer in the video gives no warning and deliberately throws his possibly lethal projectile into the middle of the crowd, even as a seriously injured man lies on the ground at its center. If that isn't a firing offense, what is?

Mike Godwin captures the senselessness of the larger police response in Reason. "The millions of dollars California just spent on this crackdown did nothing to dispel or discourage the protesters. In fact, the police intervention has echoed around the world," he wrote. "Occupy Wall Street committed to sending $20,000 to Occupy Oakland and protesters as far away as Tahrir Square in Egypt have expressed their solidarity with the Oakland protesters." Given the protest culture in the Bay Area, it seems unbelievable that civil leaders and police would be so incompetent as to imagine that a sudden and violent escalation would result in less public disorder.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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