Friday, October 28, 2011
Photo: Ali Winston
Over 2,500 people have been arrested across the United States as the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread from its genesis in Lower Manhattan to over 1,000 American cities and municipalities, where occupiers struggle with city officials for control of public spaces. But the previous scenes of mass arrests in places like Chicago’s Grant Park and on the Brooklyn Bridge paled in comparison with the chaos that broke out in Oakland this week.
The Occupy Oakland movement has run up against one of the country’s most troubled law enforcement agencies, and a community that has grown impatient waiting for its reform. The projectiles police fired in clashes with protesters seriously injured a young Iraq war vet, Scott Olsen, which helped draw national outrage over the scale of force that police used. That sort of violent over-reaction and the tactics associated with it are, however, all too familiar in Oakland, where police have repeatedly responded to public protest with violence and have faced intense scrutiny for shooting unarmed suspects in black neighborhoods, in some cases fatally.
In the early morning of Oct. 25, several hundred officers from the Oakland Police Department and 17 different Northern California law enforcement agencies tore up Occupy Oakland camps, which had been set up in front of city hall and a nearby park. They arrested 96 people. Tear gas, flash-bang grenades and less-than-lethal munitions were fired into the camp during the pre-dawn raid.
Occupiers responded with an afternoon march that by 4 p.m. had swelled to thousands, who marched to OPD headquarters. Some marchers clashed with police, throwing paint and other objects at officers; they were met with batons, beanbags fired from shotguns and tear gas.
Multiple confrontations with officers from the California Highway Patrol, Alameda County Sheriff, San Francisco Sheriff and Palo Alto Police took place at the barricaded intersection of 14th Street and Broadway, where several hundred demonstrators took at least five volleys of tear gas, flash-bang grenades, pepper balls and projectiles like lead-filled beanbags. Several people were injured, including Olsen, who suffered skull fractures and brain swelling from either a gas canister, pepper ball or beanbag round. Olsen is expected to recover, but still could not speak as of Friday morning.
The munitions that wounded Olsen and other demonstrators at 14th and Broadway were fired by officers from allied law enforcement agencies, but OPD officers gave instructions to fire on the crowd, and had already used chemical agents and stun munitions twice during confrontations with protesters earlier that day.
All of this was more than a reaction to the Occupy movement. It’s best understood as the latest battle between police and residents in at least two years of civil unrest in the city, beginning with the killing of Oscar Grant by ex-transit officer Johannes Mehserle on New Year’s Day 2009. Violent protests erupted after graphic video of Grant’s death—the unarmed, young black man was shot in the back as he lay face down on a train platform—became public. Civil unrest broke out again in July and November 2010, after Mehserle was convicted on the lightest charge he faced and sentenced to the minimum prison term of two years and time served.
The Oct. 25 violence also brings back ugly memories of a confrontation between OPD and anti-war protesters at the Port of Oakland in April 2003, when a dozen protesters and nine longshoremen headed to work were injured when OPD fired on the crowd with rubber bullets and tear gas. And it’s yet another indication of a police department spiraling out of control despite years of federal oversight.
Former Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts resigned earlier this month, claiming that city officials made his job impossible by micromanaging OPD. The department has been under the oversight of U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson for eight years, since an officer blew the whistle on rogue colleagues who beat, falsely arrested and planted evidence on West Oakland residents. Judge Henderson’s patience with Oakland’s reform efforts appear to be at an end, after watching four police chiefs and three mayors fail to bring OPD up to modern policing standards. He has recently threatened to put the department under federal receivership, which would take all decisions related to police matters out of city control.
Among the reforms OPD has not been able to complete in nearly a decade are Internal Affairs investigations of officer misconduct, the department’s use-of-force policy, rules for when officers use their firearms and a system for identifying and dealing with cops who have a history of misconduct allegations.
In August, I completed a two-year long joint investigation for Colorlines.com and the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute that identified 16 officers still on duty who were responsible for more than half of the department’s officer-involved shooting incidents in the past decade. These repeat shooters operate behind a wall of secrecy, built over decades and sealed with a 2006 California Supreme Court decision blocking public access to personnel records.
Among the worst of them is Sgt. Patrick Gonzales. Over the course of his career, Gonzales has shot four people, three fatally, and been accused of repeated beatings and public strip searches of suspects. In the predominantly black neighborhoods he has policed for 13 years, Gonzales has long been widely known as a loose cannon. Despite Gonzales’ history of questionable uses of force and the $3.6 million paid out by Oakland to settle lawsuits involving him, he is also deployed repeatedly for crowd control. He was videotaped firing projectiles at anti-war protesters in 2003, he was at the November 2010 protest of Mehserle’s verdict and a photograph of him at the Oct. 25 Occupy Oakland raid (above) shows him wearing a gas mask and riot gear, with a tear-gas canister clutched in his hand.
The federal monitors for Oakland’s court oversight have said they will investigate this week’s incident for improper uses of force and violations of Oakland’s crowd control policy, which was overhauled following a $2 million settlement with protesters at the Port of Oakland. OPD and the Alameda County District Attorney are also conducting an investigation into Olsen’s injury. Oakland Police say they are still trying to determine the identity and agency of the officer involved in Olsen’s shooting.
Mayor Jean Quan and Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan have expressed regret over Olsen’s injury, but both defended OPD’s conduct during the raid and march. Jordan said that cops fired the gas and projectiles in response to rocks, bottles and other objects thrown at officers at the camp and during that evening’s march.
In the meantime, Oakland officials are projecting the cost of the raid and cleanup in downtown Oakland to reach $1 million, including police overtime and sanitation costs. The cost of mustering officers from nearby agencies is yet to be determined, but it will be paid by the California Emergency Management Agency. Oct. 25 was at least the fourth call-out of surrounding law enforcement agencies in Oakland since 2009. At this point, Northern California law enforcement agencies that haven’t turned out to Oakland over the past few years are a definite minority.
But while questions remain over the conduct of outside law enforcement on Oct. 25, ultimately it is the Oakland Police Department that will have to answer for the scenes of chaos. There is a good chance this latest incident will put Oakland’s short-staffed police department under federal receivership, posing yet another financial quandary for a city with a 17 percent unemployment rate, 30 percent more murders than last year and a general strike set for Nov. 2.
Ali Winston reports on criminal justice for San Francisco Public Radio, KALW 91.7 FM at informant.kalwnews.org.
Friday, October 21, 2011
United States Social Movements and Systemic Social Change
Ruben Solis Garcia email@example.com
The election of the first African descendant for the Presidency of the United States was a radical historical step in the history of the first Republic of the Americas, the United States. The 2008 revolution marked the culmination of the movements of 1999, interrupted by the twin tower and Pentagon attacks and Patriot Act, reconsolidated by late 2003, and erupted in the ‘civic revolt’ of 2008. Whether we think President Obama has done well or badly during his administration is not part of this analysis.
The right wing Republican Party, the radical right Tea Party and racists militias while arguing for ‘States Rights’ have ‘consolidated’ their power base on the racist and anti-Obama campaign. Depicting the federal government as the tyrant and villain, they have mobilized their forces to ‘get ride of the Black President’ and the federalist government. The Koch brothers and other right wing ideologues are financing or getting financing to develop the ‘infra-structure’ of so called ‘Right wing Social Movements’.
The reason for the developing and financing of right wing social movements it to contest the power of the growing left social movement, forces whose power to mobilize and educate at the grassroots level got Obama elected.
These same, left social movements, threatens the very bases of the hate based racist social movements behind the Republican Party. As a pre-emptive strike, the right wing Republicans have launched an attack across-the-board of anything that looks or smells liberal including attacks on education, labor unions, gays, women, migrants, and they have targeted cutting the budgets of all these areas of social and cultural development. They have also targeted changing the Constitution to fit their national political and ideological platform including redistricting people of color and grassroots communities out of any majority vote, restrict voting through various means such as Voter ID.
The first test of the 2008 social ‘civic’ revolution will be in November 2012, as the elections are the ‘barometer’ of the populace and who will be holding the legal governmental right. To many left social forces It is not about Obama but to the right social forces it is all about Obama. The question is what is to be done in view of the Presidential elections coming up very soon. Should we let the right wing and racist forces win because we don’t believe in Obama?
Regardless of what happens to Obama, the neo-liberal agenda continues to move forward this first decade of the new century and at this time in order to create and bring about change a ‘mass movement building & mobilizing’ is necessary. The neo-liberal program has failed and has pulled the larger capitalist economy down with it. The economic crisis is not a ‘monetary’ crisis but a crisis of the capitalist system itself. It is a political crisis, and it is a governance crisis and a moment of ‘transformation’. Is the mass social movement capable of addressing the ‘construction’ of the new imagination of the new world being brought into life as the old one fails?
The mass movement grows, anchored in real infrastructural movement growth and expanding base of people, organizations, communications, relations and ‘decision-makers’ in the communities. After two US Social Forum, we see the impacts of social movements for change in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Arizona, Louisiana, and many other ‘front line’ states. A new day has dawned; What is to be done?
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Forwarded by Estelle Jelinek
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 07:02:00 AM
Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street -
This statement was voted on and approved by the general assembly of protesters at Liberty Square: Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one's skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers' healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people's lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!
*These grievances are not all-inclusive.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Questions linger over Kelly AFB contamination even after property changes hands
PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 12, 2011
Purple wooden crosses that dot this south San Antonio community are starting to age, their paint chipped and faded. Planted in lawns next to mailboxes, fences, and trees, they point to a battle with cancer for someone inside.
For many here, the crosses are a sign of the lasting, toxic legacy of the now-shuttered Kelly Air Force Base, which last year turned over its last patch of land to the Port San Antonio industrial park. But even as some residents continue to blame the neighborhood’s higher-than-normal rates of cancer and birth defects on chemicals that seeped off base decades ago, the proof is elusive. Kyle Cunningham, program manager at the City’s Public Center for Environmental Health, said last week the agency’s contract with the Air Force to study possible health effects from Kelly contamination, a cooperative agreement struck in 2001, ended last month. All the while, many in the neighborhood are critical that years of studies and reports have failed to answer that one nagging question: whether the Air Force is responsible for the rash of illnesses hammering the neighborhood.
“We’ve felt for a long time the contamination caused our sickness,” says Robert Alvarado, a four-decade veteran of this so-called Toxic Triangle. “But apparently, we’ll never prove it. We’ll be dead and everyone will forget what caused all of this.”
Decades have passed since base officials discovered toxic plumes in the area’s groundwater, once stretching underneath more than 20,000 nearby homes, many of which relied on private water wells. For years, residents of this so-called Toxic Triangle, a residential area on the edge of the former base, have hoped to prove the Air Force culpable, at least in part, for the neighborhood’s health woes, even as studies remained frustratingly inconclusive.
The Air Force started acknowledging decades ago groundwater contamination in and around the base stemming from chemicals like trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreaser, and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), a chemical used to strip paint, that were routinely dumped into open pits. To date, a quarter billion dollars have been spent on cleanup at Kelly, shrinking the plumes and scrubbing the former base, according to the Air Force Real Property Agency, which expects to shell out another $32 million to complete the cleanup, a process that could drag on into at least 2041, according to Air Force estimates.
Alvarado says he and others first suspected something was wrong at Kelly in the 1980s. Neighbors routinely complained of foul odors coming from the Kelly grounds, he said. Some even saw their fingernails turn black when they watered their lawns. Many of the neighborhood’s shallow groundwater wells that have since been plugged as a precaution were used for drinking, washing cars, and watering gardens.
Base officials began to take note in the late 1980s when construction workers digging along Quintana Road unearthed toxic fumes and collapsed. Officials later admitted that workers drained chemical waste for years directly into the ground, or dumped it into nearby the nearby creek. In addition to TCE and PCE, Kelly workers also handled and dumped dangerous toxins like dichloroethene (DCE), benzene, vinyl chloride and thallium, known and suspected cancer-causing agents.
Like many in his neighborhood, cancer surrounds Alvarado. His wife Lupe was diagnosed with thyroid cancer years ago, and soon afterward his daughter developed the same condition, though neither he nor his wife had a prior family history of the disease. At least six neighbors on his block have succumbed to cancer over the past two years. “Right down the street, my neighbor passed away this Saturday. His wife passed away about two years ago,” he said. “Both were because of cancer.” An aneurysm robbed Alvarado of most of his sight years back, and doctors later discovered his kidneys were badly damaged from unknown chemicals.
Numerous reports over the years show there is, indeed, something wrong inside the Toxic Triangle. But each stop short of identifying a cause for the elevated cancer rates, as well as higher-than-normal birth abnormalities, such as Down syndrome and infant lung defects. Officially, a clear pathway to chemical exposure hasn’t been proven, something Alvarado and others in the neighborhood brush off with sighs and eye-rolls. They lived with the wells, along with flooding runoff from Kelly during heavy rains, years before the contamination was even acknowledged. And Alvarado recalls buying two truckloads full of dirt from Kelly at a bargain price to shore up his yard from flooding, something he now regrets, insisting the soil was likely contaminated.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, originally tasked with assessing health problems around Kelly, conducted some of the area’s critical first studies in the 1990s, when authorities had just started to realize the extent of contamination in and around Kelly. Those studies noted increased levels of liver and kidney cancer, as well as leukemia, but failed to connect it to the groundwater plumes emanating from Kelly or possible soil contamination in and around the site.
A Congressional panel would later release a damning report against the ATSDR, accusing the agency of performing a shoddy analysis and citing the agency’s work at Kelly as a prime example of how the ATSDR “often obscures or overlooks potential health hazards, uses inadequate analysis, and fails to zero in on toxic culprits.” One of the chief complaints of report author University of Maryland toxicologist Katherine Squibb, who reviewed the ATSDR’s work after being hired by the Kelly Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), is that the agency failed to measure important possible exposure pathways, and that the agency’s studies hadn’t determined whether chemicals migrated off of the Kelly grounds. In addition, she said, studies looking for sources of exposure to the community only occurred after the Air Force had already ramped up its cleanup efforts.
Greg Gangnuss, a spokesman with the Air Force’s property group, says the Air Force has identified 36 cleanup sites on the base, 25 of which are now finished. The Air Force recently awarded the Tennessee-based Shaw E&I Group, which previously helped plug groundwater wells around the Toxic Triangle, a $37.5 million, nine and a half year contract to identify and remove any chemicals remaining on base.
As the groundwater plumes continue to recede with the ongoing remediation, Alvarado and others in the neighborhood fear their chances of linking local sicknesses to Kelly’s toxic past shrinks.
Diana Lopez, an environmental justice organizer with Southwest Workers Union who grew up in the Toxic Triangle, said that while San Antonio’s Metro Health has largely been responsive to concerns from the community it has often felt like the cadre of local, state, and federal agencies has been looking for ways to explain away the illnesses. “That’s part of what makes it this ongoing struggle, it seems like there’s always excuses,” she said. Case in point: the brief inference out of Metro Health two years back that aflatoxin-contaminated corn, or bad tortillas, might explain away the high cancer and diabetes rates in the neighborhood (“Yea, we were pretty disgusted by that one,” Lopez said).
And while Gangnuss says that there is “no evidence that containers of actual Herbicide Orange were ever maintained at the former East Kelly AFB,” it is true that the chemical components of Agent Orange were stored there.
The Centers for Disease Control last year funded a study testing soil samples from 10 neighborhood homes for the presence of dioxin, a key component of dangerous herbicide. Still, the study by Texas A&M University professor Thomas McDonald found that all possible carcinogens — including dioxins — discovered in the samples were at levels considered acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. After reviewing the report, renowned environmental scientist and activist Wilma Subra, who’s helped residents in the neighborhood since 2001, said dioxin levels in some of the samples surpassed revised benchmarks the EPA plans to rollout in the near future. “I would say they’re still elevated.”
Subra has assisted nearby residents in digesting the mounds of data regarding Kelly, helping consolidate EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reports, and presenting yearly breakdowns to residents. “There are a whole host of issues here still,” she said by phone last week, “but the big one is that there’s still offsite groundwater contamination.”
The most recent test well data, she said, shows a plume still floats underneath the northern corner of the neighborhood. Recent EPA analysis showed vapor from the toxic plumes had made its way into some neighborhood homes, but not at levels that required action from the agency.
The cleanup, Subra says, is “moving, but it’s still moving very slowly.” There’s still sub-surface contamination the Air Force has yet to address, she insists, claiming some contaminated areas on base were simply capped or covered over with parking lots, leaving open the possibility of chemical leeching in the future. At one of the most contaminated sites on the former base, the old metal plating shop, Subra says officials simply erected cement walls to contain the toxins. “There’s still huge source material there,” she said.
And just look to the Lower Leon Creek to see how Kelly’s toxic legacy is still being felt. Runoff from the base, which flushes into the nearby creek, continues to worry Subra and some in the neighborhood. While a recent U.S. Geological Survey study shows elevated levels of a variety of toxins in virtually all of Bexar County’s watersheds, Leon’s the worst, with hazardous levels of the suspected carcinogen DDT, an herbicide used extensively in the Vietnam War and stored at Kelly, along with harmful concentrations of chromium and cadmium.
Once TCEQ and the EPA deems the cleanup has been finished, the Air Force will forever wash its hands of the Toxic Triangle, able to walk away from its environmental liability. For Subra, she’s not sure a cause and effect will ever be definitively proven, even though, according to her, the chemicals dumped at Kelly wholly match illnesses shown in the neighborhood.
“It’s very difficult to do cause and effect, even in a legal setting, in court,” she said. “But the health impacts match. What they have is what’s associated with the chemicals they’ve all been exposed to.” •
> Email Michael Barajas