The Bay Area and Occupy Wall Streeters are up in arms over the Iraq War vet, Scott Olsen, who was allegedly shot in the face with a tear gas canister (TGC). Occupiers, their sideline cheerleaders and anyone with a beef against the police in general, are bashing the Oakland PD and holding up this video as evidence of police brutality.
Trouble is, from what I see, the video does more to undermine their claim than it does to support it. First, watch the entire video.
Let me say this first. I sincerely hope Olsen makes a full and speedy recovery and that there’s no lasting damage—from whatever hit him or that he hit. And I do mean whatever because, Dear 2.5 Readers, it isn’t all that clear what exactly did hit Olsen in the face.
First, look at the smoke contrail of the single and only visible TGC shot that was fired at :07 before Olsen goes down. It comes from behind Olsen at least 40-50 feet away from where we see him laying in the street (:14). The smoke contrail is also well above the height of a human being by 4-5 feet in my rough estimation. The nearest flash grenade (FG) that goes off is at least 20 feet behind him as well. There’s also no smoking gas canister within 30 feet of his position, too. (Could a dud TGC have hit him? Sure, it’s possible.) At :10/:11, Olsen goes down and hard (behind the girl in the orangish shirt), but a full 3-4 seconds after the TGC has passed over him and easily cleared his position, landing out of frame to the right. For a blow that caused him to have a 2-3” fracture as SFGate is reporting, he would have dropped immediately, not 3-4 seconds afterward.
But let’s assume Olsen was hit in the face from a canister. Was he targeted or did he just happen to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time? Well, he’s clearly in the wrong place, the police have told the crowd to disperse and are firing tear gas. But was he purposefully targeted? That lone TGC shot at :07 comes from far away and TGC guns aren’t exactly known for accuracy, so even if it did hit him I see nothing to support the claim that there was intent to harm. But more on that in a minute.
(Note: As a vet, one would think that through his training Olsen would instinctively know to “duck and cover” when canisters are being fired. SFGate this morning is making Olsen sound like a dolt, writing that he was standing “calmly in front of a police line (which are shown firing no TG shots) as tear gas canisters….whizzed past his head.” The guy who shot the footage says Olsen was “standing perfectly still”. Really? That’s not very bright. And so much for his training. Who knows, maybe he was trying to be defiant or a tough guy.)
Who’s to say the projectile didn’t come from the crowd? There is also at least one Occupier that can be seen picking up and hurling an object sidearm at the police line at :12, left side of the frame in the background near the gas. (I don’t think it’s this guy because Olsen goes down before he releases the object.) However, stuff is flying all over the place in the background. Look at the victim again at :15 when the arrow comes in. What’s that rather large object near his head? I can’t quite make it out. I don’t see it flying in from anywhere either. (There’s another view of it at :25/:26.) It’s not a TGC or an FG, though. However, it looks big enough to do some damage, like fracture a skull. And later on in the video, after the crowd surrounds Olsen and FGs are sent in again, you can spot more projectiles being thrown over and from behind and to the side of the police.
So can it be assumed that the projectile came from the police? No. From the Occupiers? No. He got hit with something all right, but from whom or what is undecided and unknown.Then again, maybe he didn’t get hit all. Maybe that FG that went off that 20+ feet from Olsen induced a seizure that made Olsen pass out and smash his head on the pavement. If my PlayStation comes with a warning saying that video games might induce seizures, why not an FG? Entirely possible, but a real stretch, I grant, especially since we don’t know his medical history. Yet neither of those opposing scenarios or the seeming lack of video evidence matters to the Occupiers and their supporters. The shot had to have come the police. It just wouldn’t play very well in the media or for their cause (whatever it is this week).
Look, I could be wrong about my video analysis and it could turn out that Olsen was indeed shot in the face with a TGC by a cop. If so, I’ll post a retraction. But here’s my end point: no one inside the riot zone had any reasonable expectation of safety when the tear gas canisters started flying and the FGs started popping. They were told leave, so leave. And leave right fucking now, that’s what tear gas says. If not, well, you get what you get until you do leave or suffer the potential consequences—arrest, gas inhalation, temporary blindness from FGs, stinging eyes or, in this case, taking some kind of object to the head. And that’s happened to Olsen. He got what he got when he chose to defy a police order. (Again, where’s Olsen’s military discipline? When you’re given an order, you follow it. Period.) But to leap to the conclusion that Oakland Police are maliciously “shooting unarmed” people with intent to harm as several Facebook friends have posted—particularly when the video seems to lack the evidence to support that claim—is absurd and intellectually bankrupt.