Scott Olsen, a former U.S. Marine who completed two tours in Iraq, is in critical condition on Thursday, after being hit in the face by a police projectile during an Occupy Oakland protest Tuesday night.
Olsen is now in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain swelling. It is not clear what happened during the protest, and so far police have kept the details to themselves, but according to protestors Olsen was either shot in the head by bean bag munitions or a tear gas canister, both of which were used to control demonstrators who refused to leave their encampment in a city park.
The irony is not lost on anyone here that this is someone who survived two tours in Iraq and is now seriously injured by the Oakland police force, Olsen's friend, Adele Carpenter, told Reuters.
Before the events in Oakland, the Occupy Wall Street movement had already been gaining steam across the country and around the world. But will the Scott Olsen incident galvanize Americans? Will it strengthen the Occupy movement?
From its onset, the Occupy movement has modeled itself after the Arab Spring protests of 2011, which started in Tunisia and spread across North Africa and into the Middle East. The Occupy Wall Street organizers were particularly inspired by Egypt's Tahrir square uprising, which toppled the Hosni Mubarak regime in a month's time.
But the event that sparked the whole movement was the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi. Bouazizi set himself on fire in December 2010 to protest how he was mistreated by state police. After a policewoman slapped him, confiscated his wares and produce -- which he had had to go into debt to buy -- and insulted his family, Bouazizi had enough.
What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this? A man who has to feed his family by buying goods on credit when they fine him ... and take his goods. In [the city of] Sidi Bouzid, those with no connections and no money for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live, his sister Leila told Reuters in January.
Bouazizi's death became a symbol of oppression and government corruption. At his funeral, 5,000 people chanted farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep.
He became the inspiration for the Tunisian revolution, which then became the inspiration for the Arab Spring.
In Oakland, protestors are already standing behind Olsen, as both man and symbol. The night after he was wounded, 1,000 Occupy Oakland protestors marched in defiance of the police. Apparently unafraid of potential violence, more people have come to join the demonstrations.
I'm going to stay here tonight, Oakland resident Jhalid Shakur told MSNBC. I don't have a tent, but I'll sleep on a bench if there's space. We're about to build our city back.
Occupy Oakland is still a small movement, and protestors are not intrinsically anti-police. But Olsen's injuries could bring more attention to the movement against corporate greed.
Of course, for Olsen to really be Bouazizi, he would have to die. No one wants this to happen. Occupy Wall Street has more than enough martyrs already -- those whose homes were foreclosed, the unemployed, the so-called 99 percent.
The very public tactics by the New York Police Department at the beginning of Occupy Wall Street -- the symbol for which is probably Anthony Bologna, the officer who pepper-sprayed a number of women already corralled in a net -- have likely made things better for the people in Zuccotti Park. Aside from a few instances, violence between protestors and police has decreased, and, so far, no one has been evicted from the protest camps in New York.
Olsen's injuries, from which everyone hopes he will recover quickly, could prevent excessive force in the future, and could ensure that the Occupy demonstrations are peaceful, safe and adhering to the basic rights of American citizens.