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Press Release from Occupy Oakland Medics on False Health and Safety Concerns

November 1, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 1, 2011

Oakland City Used False Health Concerns Against Protest, Medics Say

Occupy Oakland medical professionals and health workers condemn use of unfounded claims about health and safety as an excuse to violently dislodge protesters.

Our group of street medics, nurses, physician assistants and doctors have staffed a first aid station 24 hours a day on most days at in Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza, the site of the Occupy Oakland (OO) encampment. We attest that health and safety problems in the camp were not as severe as stated by the city of Oakland, and did not justify the violence used and city funds spent to dislodge the protest movement.

In statements regarding the eviction of the protest camp, City officials cited “threats to public health and safety,”  “increasing frequency of violence, assaults,” and “denial of access to emergency personnel.” These concerns were overblown or untrue, as we describe below.

Emergency access. The OO medic team dealt with injuries in the camp where possible, and called emergency medical service (EMS) on several occasions. We never witnessed campers blocking the EMS. In these cases:

  • Once a mildly sick person refused to go the hospital and the ambulance was cancelled
  • Twice EMS was called and transported the sick or injured person from the plaza.
  • Twice EMS was called but did not arrive and other means were found to transport or treat the person.
  • Once EMS didn’t arrive in the camp when called to pick up a man who had been knocked unconscious. After several minutes he came to and walked away from the encampment where the ambulance found him several blocks away. That man was treated and released by Highland Hospital. It is unclear why the ambulance did not arrive. No one from the camp blocked its entrance.

We also believe the plaza was at times declared unsafe by Oakland Police Department and/or Oakland Fire Department, preventing EMS from coming to the camp despite our calls for needed emergency assistance. We urge the media to request dispatch records from American Medical Response for all medical calls in or around the plaza from October 11 through October 24, which would show whether this was the case.

Violence and assaults. Chief of Police Howard Jordan has cited two incidents that we have been unable to confirm and believe to be false. He stated that a woman fell out of a tree and that campers blocked EMS personnel from entering the plaza to transport her. As far as all of us know, this never happened. There was a man who fell out of a temporary structure in the plaza; he was picked up by EMS and transported with a possible broken ankle.

Police Chief Jordan also alleged that a sexual assault took place. We can find no one with knowledge of this occurring, and no police report has been shown by Chief Jordan or cited in the media. That does not mean that it did not occur, but unsubstantiated allegations of sexual assault in Occupy encampments have been made in many cities. The camp has made it clear in repeated meetings that sexual harassment and non-consensual touching are improper and will not be tolerated.

OO participants have worked to make the camp as safe and healthy as possible, but the camp exists in a city with many problems: people without housing; people affected by time in prison; people in need of services and support for mental and physical health problems; and rats. While it is true that in the first few days of OO, there were a few altercations in the camp that resulted in violence, we do not believe the camp has been more dangerous or unhealthy than other places in the city where people informally congregate and cook food.  In addition, as the organization and community structures of OO took shape after the first week, camp conditions have continued to improve.

Threats to public health and safety. Overall, conditions in the camp are much better than those experienced by the people who slept in the plaza or on the streets before the occupation. In the camp there are tents, a supportive community tolerant of people often excluded from society, and access to healthy food and basic health care.

Besides calling EMS where necessary, we had begun to bring in outside health services to support the needs of the encampment beyond first aid, such as HIV testing, and Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless. However, the City of Oakland refused to permit Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless to park its clinic van in the downtown area until the eve of the eviction.

Summary: The alleged health and safety problems of the camp did not justify the millions of dollars and the overwhelming police force from17 jurisdictions used to evict the campers and suppress the peaceful demonstration of October 25th. Our medic teams assisted protesters injured by tear gas and projectiles shot by police. Images of injuries observed by street medics are available here, here, here.

It is also worth noting that when a police projectile felled veteran Scott Olsen, police on the scene did nothing to help him. It was volunteer OO medics (with other protesters) who carried him from the scene, provided first aid, and took him to Highland Hospital. Eviction of the encampment was certainly not worth the extremely serious neurological and potentially fatal injury of this young veteran.

PRESS CONTACTS

Seth M. Holmes, MD, PhD; Assistant Professor of Public Health, UC Berkeley (for identification only); sethmholmes@berkeley.edu

Laura Turiano, MS, PA-C; Physician Assistant; phm@turiano.org

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