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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


April 07, 2003

Oakland Police Fire Wooden Bullets at Protesters; At Least 12 Injured, Including Dockworkers

Protesters pelted with wooden bullets at Port of Oakland (4/07/03 - San Jose Mercury News)

Police in Oakland, CA fired wooden dowels, rubber bullets, tear gas "stingers" and concussion grenades at protesters in front of the Port of Oakland on April 7. Protesters as well as longshoremen employed by the Port were injured in the assault, according to victims, witnesses and reporters on the scene. It is believed to be the most violent confrontation between police and protesters to date since the March 19 invasion of Iraq.

Protester wounded by Oakland police assault - click for enlarged image
Protester wounded by Oakland police assault.
Initial reports indicate that about a dozen were injured. Six injured dockworkers were treated by paramedics, but "it is unclear" if protesters were treated. Press reports still coming in at this writing indicate at least one longshoreman has been hospitalized.

About 500 picketing activists gathered at the Port early in the morning to protest shipping companies profiting from DOD contracts to ship war materiel to Iraq. Most of the crowd had been dispersed, but police opened fire on a group of about 150 who refused to leave the gates.

Deputy Police Chief Patrick Haw claimed protesters had attacked first, telling reporters, "Police moved aggressively against [the] crowds because some people threw rocks and big iron bolts at officers."

However, at least one protester had a different version. "I was marching in a circle when the police lowered their guns at us," said Oakland resident Scott Fleming, 29, a criminal defense attorney. "I started to run and kept getting hit in the back."

A group of longshoremen pinned against a fence was caught in the cross fire and several of them were injured. Trent Willis, a business agent for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), told AP that enraged dockworkers were leaving the docks after the incident.

"They shot my guys. We're not going to work today," Willis said. "The cops had no reason to open up on them."

Another longshoreman was also openly angered by the police action. "I was standing as far back as I could," Kevin Wilson told AP. "It was very scary. All of that force wasn't necessary."

At this writing, Reuters has omitted any mention of the wooden bullets in its reporting so far, emphasizing instead the less dangerous rubber and tear gas projectiles. However, both the San Jose Mercury News and the Associated Press quote Oakland Police spokeswoman Danielle Ashford as confirming their use.

Although officially classified as "non-lethal" weapons, wooden bullets can be quite dangerous. They are one-inch diameter dowels about one-and-a-half inches long. Dealers who sell such ammunition make a point to note that "Special care must be taken when firing this ammo. Wooden bullets can penetrate" the body, causing potentially serious injury, including broken bones.

Even rubber and plastic bullets can cause injury and even death. A post to a US Navy medical message board states, "Both rubber and plastic bullets have resulted in deaths from skull fractures or closed head injuries, and permanent blindness for those struck in the eye."

Speaking of the "stinger" rounds Deputy Chief Haw said, "When they hit you, it feels like a bee sting." However, this is a gross understatement, as many who were injured by them during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle can attest. Stingers are like miniature rubber cluster bombs that explode on impact, sending dozens of smaller pellets full of CS flying in every direction. When these impact, the pellets cause bruising, welts and often cuts, and the CS inside is expelled, saturating the victim's skin (and wounds) and their clothing. When fired at close range, stinger rounds can cause lacerations, broken teeth, and even concussion. CS is a military-grade tear gas that was cleared for use against civilians during the Reagan administration.

[Read the source...]

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