November 12, 2011. Salt Lake City. After more than two months of peaceful nationwide demonstrations, the Occupy Wall Street movement has suffered its third fatality in 24 hours. None of the deaths were the result of violence or aggression on the part of the protesters.
The somber scene at Occupy Burlington after the suicide of a US veteran and Occupy demonstrator. Image courtesy of RawStory.com
One was a random shooting that had nothing to do with the movement. The second was a suicide. And the third, yesterday’s death in Salt Lake City, is suspected to be an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Each of the three tragic deaths shines a light on a different struggle that not only the Occupy demonstrators are facing, but America as well.
Thursday afternoon, in a tent at the Occupy Burlington camp in Vermont’s largest city, a 35 year old US veteran and Occupy demonstrator shot himself to death. Known fondly as Josh to his fellow protesters, he was a permanent occupier in Burlington since the protests began in that city more than two weeks ago. Not only did he support the Occupy Wall Street movement, he was homeless and had nowhere else to go. To government officials and American society, he was the latest casualty of this country’s broken social services and a reminder of the betrayal many of our nation’s veterans feel.
Sadly, we can’t even call Josh the most recent victim. Since his suicide Thursday afternoon, 32 more US veterans have commit suicide. Heartbreaking as it is, read the Whiteout Press article, ’16 US Veterans Commit Suicide Every Day’ for the staggering details.
Occupy Burlington released the following statements:
“Today, November 10th at 2pm, Josh, a valued member of Occupy Burlington and the houseless community, took his own life at the encampment. We want to take this moment to offer our thoughts and condolences to Josh's family, and to the members of the Occupy community who got to know Josh over the last two weeks. The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the encampment are with his friends and family. We appreciate the support we have received from the Burlington community, the country, and the world. We ask for everyone’s continued support and solidarity as we deal with this tragedy.
From the first day of the encampment, we have welcomed all members of the community by providing anyone in need with food, shelter, and social support. Despite our best efforts to provide care and support to all members of the community, occupations are not equipped with the infrastructure and resources needed to care for the most vulnerable members of our community. The lack of resources to care for those in need was brought to the attention of Burlington city leaders. Unfortunately, our plea for assistance was not heeded in time to help Josh.
This tragedy draws attention to the gross inequalities within our system. We mourn the loss of a great friend tonight, while discovering an ever-deeper resolve to stand with our most vulnerable citizens. The failure to provide citizens with adequate and accessible physical and mental healthcare is one of the many issues this movement is fighting against.
Again, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone reeling from this loss and we deeply appreciate everyone who has offered support, compassion, and solidarity. It is our hope that this tragedy will serve as a rallying cry for occupations around the country to continue the fight for system change.
In Solidarity, Occupy Burlington”
Thursday evening, only a few hours later, a second death occurred at an Occupy protest. This time, it was across the country at Occupy Oakland. Oakland has recently been ground zero for violence against Occupy protesters. Over-aggression and the wounding of veteran Scott Olsen by the Oakland PD became the linchpin for thousands of US veterans from all eras to join the Occupy protests.
According to witnesses and Occupy Oakland demonstrators, an argument broke out between two individuals who had nothing to do with the Occupy protests. The fight occurred just outside the movement’s encampment and resulted in the shooting death of one of the participants. City officials and Oakland police spokesmen have attempted to use the shooting as an excuse to shut the Occupy Oakland camp down. The city even distributed fliers yesterday warning protesters they were about to be evicted.
Oakland city council president Larry Reid has been a vocal critic of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He’s the most vocal advocate for forcefully shutting down the Occupy camp. “This is no longer about Occupy Wall Street" Reid said, "This is about occupying Oakland and extracting whatever you can get out of Oakland by holding our city hostage."
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan first sent in the police to clear out the protesters. But after using tear gas, stun grenades and other semi-deadly weapons on the peaceful demonstrators, veteran Scott Olsen was shot in the head by police. He became the Occupy movement’s symbol for the violence they’re suffering at the hands of police departments throughout the nation. Immediately after the national spotlight shifted to the city, Mayor Quan changed sides and publicly voiced support for the movement and assured them they could stay encamped in the city.
The following morning after the two shootings in Burlington and Oakland, another tragic death was discovered at an Occupy camp. This time, there were no guns or violence. It did however involve the death of another of America’s homeless. 2 out of 3 of the Occupy deaths, and possibly 3 out of 3, involved homeless people dieing due to a lack of any social safety net to catch them.
This third and most recent tragic death occurred inside a tent at the Occupy Salt Lake City camp. Like many northern cities, Salt Lake City demonstrators have had to brave an early and already deadly winter. According to the most recent statements by Salt Lake City officials, the death was most likely the result of carbon monoxide poisoning from a space heater the victim was using to keep warm. The dead Occupy protester was a homeless man his fellow demonstrators affectionately called Mike.
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Like other cities recently, Salt Lake City authorities have given the Occupy campers a deadline of sundown Saturday night to clear out. They aren’t the first city to attempt to forcibly remove Occupy demonstrators. Nor are these the first instances of Occupy protesters being victimized. The same day police were cracking down in Oakland using tear gas and rubber bullets, someone threw a bomb into the Occupy Portland Maine protesters. Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘Nationwide Crackdown on Occupy Protesters’ for more information.
The Salt Lake Tribune quotes one Occupy SLC protester arguing, “We understand the city’s concern about the situation but let’s be clear. We have been providing food, shelter and health care. To react by shutting this down will lead to more people dying alone, cold, hungry and without shelter." The Occupy SLC demonstrators have been camped day and night for over a month. Until now, city officials have been supportive and waived or approved all camping permits and other red tape.
Responding to the city’s ultimatum to Occupy Salt Lake City to leave their home base at Pioneer Park, an Occupy spokesperson named Tara Bueche hesitantly attempted to respond for the leaderless group. While holding open the possibility the demonstrators may comply and leave, she took an immediate measurement of the crowd’s sentiment. “I don’t think we want to leave” she concluded.
Other Occupy SLC protesters weren’t as reserved. “We’re not going to forget” Occupier Sharon Wade emotionally said through tears, referring to the homeless Occupy protester who died, “And we’re not going anywhere. You’re going to have to push me out of this park, damn it! I’m staying right here."
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