Veterans March Planned Friday in Support of Wounded Occupy Protesters
Outrage erupted among a group of veterans at the Occupy Wall Street protest last week after Iraq War veteran Kayvan Sabeghi said police clubbed him during a Nov. 3 standoff between officers and supporters of Occupy Oakland.
On Friday, fellow former service members plan to march in Oakland to denounce police brutality that they say was the cause of Sabeghi's ruptured spleen and the injury suffered by another Iraq War veteran and Occupy Oakland protester, Scott Olsen, who witnesseses said was hit by a police projectile on Oct. 25.
"No one should be treated like that whether they're a veteran or not," said Michael Thurman, who helped spearhead Friday's march, which leaves from Frank Ogawa Plaza at 4 p.m.
The veterans' injuries and their engagement with the Occupy movement have an infamous precedent that resonates with events continuing to unfold in the center of downtown Oakland.
In May 1932, about 15,000 veterans, many unemployed and destitute, descended on Washington, D.C. They demanded immediate payment of future bonuses promised them by the government. Many of the men, as well as their wives and children, set up camps around the Capitol when President Herbert Hoover refused their demands. The occupation ended in bloodshed after police descended on the Bonus Army, as they came to be called. Cavalry and tanks sent in to rout the camp were followed by soldiers with bayonets who hurled tear gas at the men and their families. The camp was left in flames, and thousands were wounded.
The Bonus Army's treatment hasn't been lost on the veterans who plan to march Friday.
Many veterans of the post-9/11 era are proud of their military service in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. But the survey reported that the sacrifices those wars have taken are being shouldered by a volunteer military made up of just one half of 1 percent of the U.S. population, whose members have found services and jobs lacking upon their return home.
Veterans said the way Olsen and Sabeghi were treated just adds insult to injury.
After serving the country to protect First Amendment rights of civilians and police alike, what happened to Olsen and Sabeghi was unacceptable, said Dottie Guy, a former member of the National Guard.
Guy, 29, served as a guard in 2003 at Camp Cropper, a holding facility for high-value detainees operated by the Army in Iraq, before she was honorably discharged in 2005. She marched with other veterans during the Nov. 2 general strike in Oakland. "Our job is to protect the freedom of speech and assembly," she said. "We still take that oath seriously."
Members of the armed forces can weigh in publicly on political matters if they are not on duty, not on base and not in uniform. And they can protest only within the United States. But some fear backlash for political activism. Add the affinity that police and military members often share, and it makes it more difficult for veterans to protest against the police.
Olsen's injury swept aside veteran Emily Yates' reservations about the Occupy movement.
"That was my 'a ha' moment," said Yates, 29, who served in the Army from 2002 to 2008 and was deployed twice to Baghdad as a public affairs specialist. She was even more incensed by the crackdown Wednesday night by law enforcement on people who tried to set up an Occupy camp on the UC Berkeley campus, where she is a student.
Police are trained to know when to use restraint, she said. "That's why they have a badge."
Thurman, 23, said he wants the officers who use force on the demonstrators to be held accountable and to change the tactics law enforcement agencies use.
He left the Air Force in 2008, two years after enlisting as a conscientious objector and, like many of the other marchers, is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.