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Liberal lawmakers are continuing their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying Thursday that images of tear-gas-filled Oakland streets and an Iraq War veteran bleeding from his head have deeply disturbed them.
The lawmakers, some of whom represent Oakland, Calif., and Atlanta, where protesters have been cleared by force, said Thursday that they think police in California overreacted by clearing Occupy Oakland protesters.
“I talked to the mayor and I told her I was gravely concerned about what was taking place,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D), who represents much of Oakland. “I support the occupiers. A nonviolent protest is the way we petition our government for a redress of grievances.”
Riot police in Oakland fired tear gas on the crowd in front of Oakland’s city hall Tuesday evening to disburse them, critically injuring a protester, Scott Olsen, when a canister allegedly hit him in the head.
“I hope that they move forward with an investigation. I’m very concerned,” Lee said.
Police have promised an investigation of the incident, and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has apologized for the incident and visited Olsen, a Marine and Iraq War veteran, in the hospital.
But the confrontation cannot be undone, leaving lingering comparisons to police crackdowns on civil rights protesters in the 1960s, notably from Rep. John Lewis.
“Oakland reminded me of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., March 1965. Just seeing the amount of tear gas that was used, it was uncalled for,” said the Georgia Democrat, who was beaten and arrested in the famous civil rights protest. “You cannot put a demonstration and a sense of discontent out with force; you cannot stop it, especially in a Democratic society.”
Lewis said the violent crackdown has “added fuel to the fire,” pointing to protesters in other cities, including his hometown of Atlanta, who are marching in solidarity with the Oakland protesters.
Police in Atlanta also cleared protesters with force, although without the striking imagery of tear gas. Lewis said he will not question the mayor’s decision to do so but said that it will not end the protest.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D), who also represents Atlanta, said he agrees with the protesters’ cause as well, but added that they should not be given special treatment to infringe on curfew laws for public parks.
“If the rules say the park closes at 11 p.m. or 10 p.m., we’ve got to follow those rules,” Johnson said. “A public park should be a public park, and that means everyone who wants to come there should have that ability. So to that extent, police have to maintain order and allow for ingress and egress into that park.”
Lee said she thinks Tuesday’s events in Oakland will encourage the movement.