In Oakland, California last night, thousands of residents gathered in front of City Hall to plan for a general strike, in the wake of violent clashes between police and Occupy Oakland protesters earlier in the week. Many were also there for a vigil for Scott Olsen, a former Marine taking part in the protests who was wounded on Tuesday night.
Olsen has become a symbol for protesters, drawing attention to excessive force used by the police department, and sparking criticism of the mayor’s handling of the Occupy movement.
The video of a Olsen being injured Tuesday night spread all over the internet. His bloodied face is a big part of what’s kept the national spotlight on Oakland. He’s a 24-yr-old Iraq veteran. He came to Occupy Oakland Tuesday night to support protesters after his workday at a Bay Area tech firm.
Video from moments earlier show Olsen standing in his Marine camouflage jacket and hat with his arms at his side. He’s standing next to someone in a Navy uniform with a flag that reads Veterans for Peace.org. Police start shooting projectiles into the crowd. Suddenly, Olsen is down. Protesters rush towards him where he is lying on the ground. But they scatter when a tear gas canister explodes on the ground next to Olsen. Eventually, protesters carried Olsen away and drove him to the hospital.
Twenty-year-old protester Clare Chadwick was one of those rescuers. Outside Highland Hospital yesterday, she stood holding Olsen’s wide brimmed camouflage hat. “When he was getting carried away his hat fell off. I ran back and grabbed it. His military hat, I though he would want it back,” she said.
Chadwick says she screamed for medical help while she was assisting Olsen, but it never came. “I held his head in my hands,” she said. “He was bleeding out of the mouth and unconscious, his eyes were rolling in the back of his head.”
Images of Olsen’s injuries spread quickly on social media sites, which is how fellow veterans and friends like Matt Howard heard of his accident. Like Olsen, Howard is a member of IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against The War. “When I woke up in the morning and checked my Facebook page and realized that a picture that had a Marine veteran was in fact Scott,” Howard said, “I was shocked you know, the fact that one of our own guys, a veteran or an IVAW, that something like that happened was a little bit unbelievable.”
Last night, Highland Hospital Chief Surgeon Dr. Alden Harken reported that Olsen was breathing on his own, and capable of moving his body. Harken said these were “huge” neurological improvements from when Olsen arrived. “He’s still having trouble articulating words. I anticipate that will improve,” Harken said.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan visited Olsen in the hospital. The visit lasted 10 minutes, but according to Highland’s spokesperson, Vintage Foster, Mayor Quan said she was sorry for what happened and that the city was investigating. Oakland’s Police Chief Howard Jordan told reporters Olsen’s injury is being treated as a lethal force incident.
As of last night, Occupy Oakland protesters re-occupied the plaza. Mayor Quan tried to address the crowd, but she was heckled. Many veterans gathered along with Occupy Oakland protesters to pay tribute to Olsen. They say his story is a reminder of the dangers of excessive force used by police in Oakland. Today, the hospital reports Olsen is in fair condition and expected to make a full recovery.
This story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.