89.1 WEMU

Injured Iraq Vet Becomes Symbol For Occupy Oakland

Oct 28, 2011
Originally published on October 28, 2011 5:54 pm

The bloodied face of a 24-year-old Iraq veteran has become a symbol for protesters in Oakland, Calif., drawing attention to the level of force used by police and sparking criticism of the mayor's handling of the Occupy movement.

Scott Olsen came to Occupy Oakland after work Tuesday night to support the protesters. Witnesses say that when clashes broke out, he was struck in the head by a projectile fired by police — either a rubber bullet or a tear gas canister. He was hospitalized with a fractured skull.

"When he was getting carried away, his hat fell off," said 20-year-old Claire Chadwick, who came to Highland Hospital in Oakland on Thursday to check on Olsen. "I ran back and grabbed it. His military hat, I thought he would want it back."

Chadwick was one of the protesters who carried Olsen away from the scene. She says she screamed for medical help, but it never came.

"I held his face in my hands while he was bleeding out of the mouth, unconscious, while his eyes were rolling in the back of his head," she said.

Olsen's friends say protesters rushed him to the hospital. Images of his injuries spread quickly on social media sites, which is how fellow veterans and friends like Matt Howard heard what happened. Like Olsen, Howard is a member of IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War.

"I woke up in the morning and checked my Facebook page, and realized that a picture that had a Marine veteran was in fact Scott," he said. "You know, I was shocked, the fact that one of our own guys, a veteran or an IVAW member, that something like that happened to him was a little bit unbelievable."

Chief surgeon Dr. Alden Harken reported Thursday night that Olsen was breathing on his own and capable of moving his body.

"He clearly understands what we are saying — huge neurological improvements over what he was when he got here," he said. "He's still having trouble articulating words. I anticipate that that will improve."

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also came to visit Olsen. Highland's spokesperson, Vintage Foster, said the mayor said she was sorry for what happened, and that the city was investigating. Earlier in the week, Oakland's Police Chief Howard Jordan told reporters Olsen's injury is being treated as a lethal force incident.

As of Thursday night, Occupy Oakland protesters re-occupied the plaza in front of City Hall. Many veterans gathered with protesters to pay tribute to Olsen. On Friday, the hospital reported that Olsen is in fair condition and expected to make a full recovery.

Denise Tejada is a reporter for Turnstylenews.com, a project of Youth Radio.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHELE NORRIS, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In Oakland, California last night, thousands of people gathered in front of city hall. They held a vigil for Scott Olsen. The Iraq War veteran was badly injured earlier this week in violent clashes between police and Occupy Oakland protestors. Olsen has become a symbol for protestors and his injury has sparked intense criticism of the Oakland police and of the city's mayor.

Denise Tejada of TurnstyleNews.com, spent yesterday in the hospital where Scott Olsen is being treated. She sent this report.

DENISE TEJADA, BYLINE: The video of a concerned crowd gathered around a young man, moments after he was injured Tuesday night, spread all over the Internet.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

TEJADA: His name is Scott Olsen and his bloodied face is now a big part of what's kept the national spotlight on Oakland. He's a 24-year-old Iraq veteran. He came to Occupy Oakland Tuesday night to support protestors after his workday at a Bay Area tech firm.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

TEJADA: Video from moments earlier shows Olsen in his Marine camouflage jacket and hat. He's standing with his arms at his side next to someone in a Navy uniform with a flag that reads: VeteransForPeace.org. Police start shooting projectiles into the crowd. Suddenly, Olsen is down. Protestors rush towards him where he is lying on the ground. But police scatter them with a gas canister that explodes on the ground next to Olsen. Eventually, protestors carried Olsen away and drove him to the hospital.

CLAIRE CHADWICK: When he was getting carried away, his hat fell off. And sort of like everyone was trashing away at it. I ran back and grabbed it. His military hat, I thought he would want it back.

TEJADA: Twenty-year-old Claire Chadwick was holding Olsen's camouflage hat yesterday outside Highland Hospital. She was one of the protestors who carried Olsen away from the scene. Chadwick says she screamed for medical help, but it never came.

CHADWICK: I held his face in my hands while he was bleeding out of the mouth, unconscious while his eyes were rolling in the back of his head.

TEJADA: Images of Olsen's injuries spread quickly on social media sites, which is how fellow veterans and friends like Matt Howard heard what happened. Like Olsen, Howard is a member of IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War.

MATT HOWARD: I woke up in the morning and checked my Facebook page and realized that a picture that had a Marine veteran was in fact Scott. You know, I was shocked the fact that one of our own guys, you know, a veteran or an IVAW member, that something like that happened to him was a little bit unbelievable.

TEJADA: Last night, Highland Hospital chief surgeon Dr. Alden Harken reported that Olsen was breathing on his own, and capable of moving his body.

DR. ALDEN HARKEN: He clearly understands what we're saying - huge neurological improvements over what he was when he got here. But he's still having trouble articulating words.

TEJADA: Oakland Mayor Jean Quan visited Olsen in the hospital. The visit lasted 10 minutes. But according to Highland's spokesperson, Mayor Quan said she was sorry for what happened and that the city was investigating. Oakland's Police Chief Howard Jordan told reporters Olsen's injury is being treated as a lethal force incident.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I am Scott Olsen.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: I am Scott Olsen.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I'm The 99 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: I'm The 99 Percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I am Scott Olsen...

TEJADA: As of last night, Occupy Oakland protestors re-occupied the plaza in front of city hall.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I am Scott Olsen.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: I am Scott Olsen...

TEJADA: Many veterans gathered along with protestors to pay tribute to Olsen. Today, the hospital reports Olsen is in fair condition and expected to make a full recovery.

For NPR News, I'm Denise Tejada.

BLOCK: And that report came to us from TurnstyleNews.com. It's a project of Youth Radio. You can see footage of those clashes with police in Oakland at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.