Oakland and New York police violate international norms in unprovoked violence against Occupiers
An Iraq War veteran is in critical condition with a fractured skull after being attacked by police during an Occupy Oakland demonstration late Tuesday night.
Oakland police shot Scott Olsen, 24, in the head with a projectile during a protest following a violent police assault on the Occupy Oakland encampment. The demonstrators had been making an attempt to re-establish a presence in the area when they were confronted in the streets by hundreds of cops in riot gear.
Video taken of the incident shows that when fellow demonstrators went to the aid of Olsen, a cop threw a flash grenade into the crowd, further endangering the injured protester and those who were trying to help him.
In response to the incident, Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York held a march in solidarity with Occupy Oakland on Wednesday night. The NYPD responded by ruthlessly attacking the marchers. Dramatic video on YouTube shows police using excessive force, including punching and kicking protesters who were being held to the ground.
The aggressive police tactics signal an escalation on the part of the authorities in dealing with the Occupy protests that have proliferated across the United States. Even with 79% of Americans agreeing with the protesters’ grievances and the Occupy movement garnering more support than that of elected representatives in Congress, it is becoming increasingly clear that instead of addressing the protesters’ grievances, the authorities are choosing to repress them with brute force.
In addition to violating these Americans’ constitutional rights, particularly the First Amendment which enshrines “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” these draconian police tactics also violate basic principles of international law – the same principles the U.S. government often cites in criticizing countries like Syria and Iran.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. has subscribed, plainly states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a legally binding treaty signed and ratified by the United States in 1992, unambiguously states, “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.”
Interestingly, among the U.S. reservations to the ICCPR was that it did not go far enough in ensuring the rights of people to free association and assembly. The United States expressed reservations in particular that none of the articles should restrict the right of free speech and association, in addition to reservations regarding the U.S. use of the death penalty and that the U.S. government may treat juveniles as adults in the judicial system.
Of course, U.S. leaders often highlight the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in criticizing undemocratic regimes in other countries.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently stated in regards to Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that “we will do our part to support their aspirations for a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive. And we will stand up for their universal rights and dignity by pressuring the regime and Asad personally to get out of the way of this transition.”
In contrast to those strong words, the Obama administration has been virtually silent on the violent crackdown by police on Occupy demonstrators. When asked about the Oakland violence on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney laid the blame on the protesters, despite the fact that YouTube videos clearly demonstrate that the police were the instigators.
“As to the violence,” he said, “we obviously believe and insist that everyone behave in a lawful manner, even as they’re expressing, justifiably, their frustrations.”
Apparently referring to the demonstrators rather than the police, he added, “it’s also important that laws are upheld and obeyed.”