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The growing number of video clips and photos showing police in Darth Vader-like riot gear assaulting peaceful demonstrators with everything from tear gas and mace to truncheons, point-blank shots with beanbags and rubber bullets, and of course the ubiquitous fist and club, have made a bad joke out of claims that America is either the land of the free or the home of the brave.
Scott Olson, a veteran of America’s Iraq War, suffered a severe brain injury that nearly killed him, and left him with difficulty speaking, thanks to a shot to his head by an attacking police officer in Oakland who was firing teargas canisters from a gun-like weapon. Olsen is lucky to be alive and will hopefully recover over time. A comrade, veteran Kayvan Sabehgi, who was retreating from advancing police that same night with his hands tucked in his pockets, can be seen being chased and so brutally beaten by another attacking thug cop that he had to be hospitalized for treatment of a lacerated spleen, although the cops left him writing in agony in a cell for hours before sending him to the hospital.
Old women, pregnant mothers-to-be, and even children have been hit with pepper spray, teargassed and terrorized by police goons in New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Dallas, Chicago, Boston and elsewhere in what is almost certainly a coordinated attack on the Occupy Movement being run out of Washington.
Americans have been watching these scenes of cops assaulting peaceful demonstrators in shock. They are used to seeing this kind of thing going on in Latin America or the Middle East or Asia, and our own government would always make noises of protest. Now it’s happening here at home.
President Obama, meanwhile, has remained shamelessly silent about this police-state behavior by the nation’s local police forces, all of them armed and armored with the aid of Federal Homeland Security grants, and working on the basis of “intelligence” collected by federally-funded Fusion Centers” and federally- run Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
This is the moment that Obama, who faces an election in less than a year, has to demonstrate whether he is the president of the banks that have so lavishly funded his first campaign, that continue to pour money into his current re-election campaign, and that are urging this crackdown on protests, or the people — especially the young people — who worked so hard to put him into office in the first place.
The thuggish attacks on the peaceful protesters of the Occupy Movement are even more brutal than were many of the attacks on the Civil Rights Movement marchers of the 1950s and ’60s. The only thing lacking right now from those dark days are the murders and the dogs, but no doubt we’ll be seeing those thing’s next, as the movement demanding economic justice for the 99% and punishment for the 1% builds momentum.
Back in the 1950s, an earlier president, former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhour, witnessing the atrocities of local police in Arkansas and other jurisdictions, did the right thing. He ordered out the National Guard to defend the civil rights of young black people who wanted to be able to attend public schools and colleges, and those week-end soldiers defended the people and the Constitution and kept the cops and their dogs at bay.
Now President Obama must do the same thing. Whether or not his Department of Homeland Security and his Justice Department have been orchestrating the attacks on demonstrators in the Occupy Movement, Obama must now order out the Guard and instruct them to defend the protesters and the Constitution. It would be a welcome new assignment for the Guard, which for the past decade has been wrongly shipped out of the country to help wage imperialist wars on Iraqis and Afghans.
If he does this, he instantly wins back the army of young people who once worked so tirelessly for his historic election in 2008. If he doesn’t do it, and allows the brutality and the thuggishness to continue to escalate, his reelection hopes are toast, and deservedly so.
The Obama presidency has been one of the greatest disasters for progressives in modern history, as a man who ran for office promising change and a new respect for the Constitution, almost immediately picked up where his predecessor had left off, escalating the country’s illegal wars, enlarging the share of the nation’s wealth going to the Pentagon and to the secret intelligence services, shoveling money to the biggest banks, endorsing the torture abuses at Guantanamo and at the many CIA black-sites around the world, authorizing the summary execution of American citizens abroad, and ignoring the looming catastrophe of global climate change.
It took some time, but out of this wreckage and betrayal, a movement has arisen, led by young people — many of them the very young people who worked so tirelessly for Obama. Now they are boldly demanding a government that works on behalf of the majority, not of the rich and powerful.
For their efforts, they are being assaulted by a police force that has been turned, over the last decade of a fraudulent, trumped-up “War” on Terror, into a kind of American Gestapo, that “polices” communities with assault weapons, breaks into homes wearing masks, beats and gasses people without even bothering to arrest them, kills unarmed citizens with impunity, and considers criticism of its actions tantamount to a crime in itself, meriting assault and/or arrest.
Obama has overseen and even been the author of much of this disaster, but he still has a choice at this point: Either put an immediate stop to this outrage, by inserting the National Guard between these thugs in blue or black, and the people, and start listening and responding to the demands of the Occupy Movement, or go down to defeat next November as the man who buried American democracy and freedom.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new award-winning independent online alternative newspaper. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.