Anger over serious injury to demonstrator gives ugly mood to US protest

A critically ill Iraq veteran has become a figurehead

A man lies in the street, blood dripping from a serious head wound.

As demonstrators rush to his aid, police officers standing only yards away casually toss a tear gas canister in their direction. It explodes, within inches of his head. Then there's a scream: "Medic!"

The man was Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old member of the "Occupy" movement which has installed itself in dozens of US city centres. The location was Oakland, which on Tuesday night resembled a war zone as riot police made a heavy-handed and ultimately futile attempt to clear protesters from their streets.

Yesterday, Mr Olsen was with his parents in the Californian city's Highland General hospital, with a fractured skull and swollen brain. After being unconscious for 12 hours, he is now awake, but still having trouble speaking. Doctors upgraded his condition from "critical" to "fair".

Videos of the chaotic moments when the life-threatening injuries occurred were flooding the internet, turning Mr Olsen into a hero of a movement which has so far lacked figureheads. His name was on protest banners from Los Angeles to Baltimore, and in Las Vegas, demonstrators projected his image on to the side of tall buildings.

In Oakland, a thousand people attended a candlelit vigil for Mr Olsen. The city's Mayor, Jean Quan, visited him in hospital and apologised for the incident, which has turned her administration into the butt of both public outrage and late night TV punchlines.

Howard Jordan, the chief of police in the city, an unglamorous suburb of San Francisco, said he was carrying out a full inquiry, but denied reports his officers had used rubber bullets or flash grenades on unarmed demonstrators.

Instead, he maintained they only fired tear gas and "bean bag" rounds when projectiles were thrown at them. "It's unfortunate it happened," he said. "I wish that it didn't happen. Our goal, obviously, isn't to cause injury to anyone."

His claims were nonetheless disputed. The Washington Post obtained photographs of a demonstrator called Jen Lasher, who had a large bruise she said was caused by a rubber bullet. It also published an image of a rubber bullet which demonstrator Schuyler Erle said he found on the city's streets.

The newspaper pointed out that Oakland Police Force's crowd management policy explicitly bans the use of "bean bag" rounds. The force has in recent years paid several seven-figure legal settlements to victims of police brutality.

Whatever occurred, controversy over Mr Olsen is an object lesson to civic authorities in how not to deal with the "Occupy" camps, which have been installed in some US cities for six weeks.

Citing everything from public health to petty crime, many mayors and police chiefs are anxious to clear their streets of the so-called "99 per cent". But any effort to prevent people exercising their right to peaceful protest risks being at odds with the US Constitution. The White House has expressed sympathy with the broad aims of demonstrators, but has stressed they must uphold the law. While hoping to harness the energy of the movement President Obama does not wish to alienate Middle America a year from an election, so is wary of criticising alleged police brutality.

Olsen is becoming a gift from the PR gods, though. While right-wing figures such as Herman Cain, the Republican Presidential candidate, have derided the "Occupy" protesters as "un-American", it has emerged Mr Olsen is a former US marine who served with distinction in Iraq. And to conservative critics who style the demonstrators as jobless layabouts, Mr Olsen's supporters have the perfect riposte: he works for a successful San Francisco software company.

World of protest: Anti-capitalist occupations

Since the first Occupy Wall Street demonstration on 17 September, parallel protests of various sizes have sprung up in cities on every Continent, except Antarctica. Notably, the camp which closed down St Paul's Cathedral for about a week was set up in the wake of the Wall Street protest. Most are in the US, with action in Austin in Texas, Baltimore in Maryland, Chicago in Illinois and in Dallas in Texas. But they have also spread to other parts of Europe, affecting Amsterdam, Barcelona and Rome, among other major cities. There were said to be 200,000 people involved in the Rome protest, which turned violent; about 350,000 attended the Barcelona protest and 1,500 the Amsterdam action.

Other cities affected include Cape Town and Johannesburg, Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Buenos Aires in Argentina and the Japanese capital, Tokyo.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower