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In a hate-filled column in the San Francisco Chronicle (“Tree sitter is not in Berkeley any more” – March 18, 2009), Debra J. Saunders insinuated that Tristan Anderson, still lingering in a coma in Tel Aviv after taking an Israeli tear gas canister to the face, costing him part of his frontal lobe and possibly his right eye, deserves this comeuppance for daring to join Palestinians in protest against Israel’s illegal Apartheid wall, which divides farmers from their olive groves in the West Bank town of Ni’ilin. (He was taking pictures far from the wall, well after the protest had subsided.) Let Saunders look at bloody video of my friend Tristan, a former Berkeley Oak Grove tree-sitter, and say to his parents or his girlfriend that he “found out in the worst way that political protest outside the Bay Area isn’t all energy bars and catch-and-release.”
To be so angry, Saunders must have spent a lot of time sitting in traffic laying on the horn during the march in Tristan’s name, 500 strong by my count, which began at the Israeli Consulate on March 16 and wended through downtown San Francisco. She might have used that time to consider Israel’s unbroken saga of human rights abuses, including its multiple massacres of Egyptian, Lebanese, and Palestinian refugees, or its brazen murder of 34 U.S. service-members aboard the USS Liberty in 1967 as they eavesdropped on the Six Day War, instead of how to blame Tristan vicariously for blocking traffic. The Liberty incident, in which Israeli forces also maimed over 170 people, was hushed up by both governments, much the way comfortable Americans like Saunders continue to look away from Israel’s atrocities.
Ironically, Saunders is the one who is hopped up on energy bars. For her, a temporary traffic-snarling protest is “menacing and violence-tinged;” everything the police say is credible; and Tristan’s friends should have used his tragedy “to contemplate how wonderful it is to live in a safe country.”
Which safe country? The one where a young black man is punched in the face then shot in the back by white cops on a subway platform in front of witnesses, and the only thing the other cops can think to do is try to seize witnesses’ cell phone cameras? Or the one where neighborhoods full of black residents can be left to drown in a Hurricane, shot like dogs without reprisal by vigilante white neighbors for trying to get to higher ground, then condemned out of their own homes and discouraged from returning to rebuild?
Or the country which exports weapons of mass destruction and encourages their use, or uses them directly, against people around the world who are fighting for self-determination and self-governance in the spirit of our own duplicitous ideals?
Norman Mailer would have said to Saunders: “[Our] obligation is to improve all the time, not to stop and take bows and smell [our] armpits and say ‘Ambrosia!’” Tristan – who happens to be one of the most mild-mannered, self-sacrificing, and truly nice people in the world – understands this.
Saunders lamented, “The problem is…when an officer’s skull is fractured – as happened to SFPD’s Peter Shields during an anti-World Trade Organization protest in 2005 – there are no angry marches closing down Market Street.” As one of the lawyers who represented independent journalist Josh Wolf, jailed for eight months for contempt for refusing on principle to turn over his video from that incident to the FBI (which did not show the attack on Shields, but did show Shields’ partner, Officer Michael Wolf, choking a completely non-threatening protester half to death), I know something about the events – a protest against the G8 Summit, not the WTO. It began when Officer Shields sped down a dark street in his patrol car, dangerously scattering protesters like chickens, then jumped out wildly swinging his baton. According to his own account, he was in the midst of striking a protester in the arms and legs when someone hit him over the head.
Officer Shields did not deserve to be injured any more than Tristan did, and he too enjoyed a tremendous outpouring of support in his community. But the notion that police regularly face violence by antiwar or anti-Capitalist protesters is a twisted farce. The opposite is true.
After the march for Tristan returned to the Israeli Consulate, SFPD officers charged up onto the sidewalk and viciously clubbed people without provocation, as video posted online plainly shows, sending one protester to the hospital for nine staples to his head. A few days later, on the same day four Oakland police officers were murdered, seething San Francisco cops again clubbed peaceful antiwar protesters, sending several women to the hospital with head and rib injuries.
Nope, not in Berkeley any more, Ms. Saunders. And not on the West Bank either. In San Francisco.
Instead of savaging a human rights activist in a coma, Saunders should come out from her armpit and consider what such authoritarianism portends for her love-it-or-leave-it Amer’kuh.
JAMI TARN is the pen name of an attorney in San Francisco.