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War On OWS: Berkeley Police Threaten To Shoot Protesters With Same Deadly Tear Gas Grenade Launcher Used Against Palestinian Protesters

By Yasha Levine
December 26, 2011

I’m not going make you wade through three paragraphs of stuff to find out who won this year’s Urban Shield: it was the Israeli team. Oakland Police Department took second place, while San Francisco Police Department tied with FBI for third.

– PoliceOne.com Senior Editor Doug Wyllie on Urban Shield 2010

A video recorded by OccupyNewsandMedia during last week’s early-morning raid on Occupy Berkeley shows a burly Berkeley cop strutting around with a repeat-fire tear gas grenade launcher, menacingly pointing it at protesters without provocation. At one point the bloodlusting cop threatens to shoot pointblank the guy with the camera, telling him “You back up…you may not understand it til’ I use this, but you better back up”– before charging the videographer with his grenade launcher pointed right at the camera guy’s face.

The weapon– sleek, with a matte black finish that reflects almost no light–looks like it can do some serious damage. And it can. That’s because it’s a military-grade high-velocity, repeat-fire Penn Arms grenade launcher designed to lob flash-bang grenades, tear gas canisters, plastic buckshot, and fat rubber and wooden pellets called “batons” at high velocity and precision at human targets as far as a football field away.

This is the same weapon the Oakland Police Department used to shoot 24-year-old Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen in the face with a tear gas canister at close range. The impact of the round, which was fired by an unidentified riot trooper from no more than 10 feet away, fractured Olsen’s skull and left him with minor brain damage, including a speech impediment. Olsen would have died from his wound had he not received emergency brain surgery in time.

Penn Arms: From Occupied Palestine to Downtown Oakland, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

According to Oakland’s interim police chief, the whole thing was an unfortunate accident: “It’s unfortunate it happened. I wish that it didn’t happen. Our goal, obviously, isn’t to cause injury to anyone,” he told reporters the next day.

But the truth is that Olsen’s injury was not an accident nor a freak occurrence.

Even though Penn Arms launchers are supposed to be used for “riot suppression” and “other crowd control operations,” they have already gained a reputation for being effective as a deadly weapon, repeatedly causing “unfortunate accidents” wherever it’s used–especially when used against civilians at close range. This side benefit is something that Combined Systems Inc., which owns Penn Arms, doesn’t even try hiding. The company calls its launcher line “less lethal,” not “less than lethal”–and even owns the less-lethal.com domain name, which takes you straight to its weapons and munitions catalogue. You have to wonder: Less lethal than what? An M-16? A shotgun? The .357 magnum I have sitting in my desk drawer? If it is, then not by much–not when used at close range, which security forces have a habit of doing.

Penn Arms launchers have been used with deadly results by repressive, authoritarian regimes all across the world. Most recently, the grenade launchers were part of the state arsenal in Egypt and Bahrain, where they were used both for launching tear gas, and as blunt force trauma weapons that maimed and killed peaceful protesters.

Israel in particular has a nasty record of employing Penn Arms tear gas grenade launchers for their “off label” use against Palestinian protesters. That is, as short range weapons that not only critically injure and kill, but provide the added PR benefit of plausible deniability after the unfortunate accident occurs.

That’s exactly what happened earlier this month, when an IDF solider shot Mustafa Tamimi in the face with a tear gas grenade at close range, crushing Tamimi’s skull and forcing a part of his brain out of a shattered eye socket. Tamimi was 28 and a resident of Nabi Saleh, a Palestianian town that has had its land and water taken over by a Jewish-only settlement. Penn Arms’ “less lethal” action was captured and documented in gruesome detail by journalists who were there on the scene:

This is what “less lethal” looks like

Israeli officials claimed that the whole thing was an accident, that the soldier “didn’t see” the Tamimi when he fired the shot. But people who’ve reported on Palestinian protests insist that this was no accident, but rather deliberate policy. According to Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf, who served in the IDF for four and a half years,
this practice of shooting civilians with tear gas canisters at short range is standard IDF

Israel Defense Forces officials have told Haaretz that Tamimi’s death was “an exceptional incident.” Still, as we have reported here in the past, firing tear gas canisters at protesters from close range (in violation of army orders) is a common practice in the West Bank. A couple of years ago, Palestinian protester Bassam Abu-Rahmeh of Bil’in died after getting hit in the chest by a tear gas canister [video]. A year later, his sister, Jawahar,collapsed from the effect of a tear gas and later died in a Ramallah hospital.

I have seen tear gas canisters shot directly at protesters (including myself) in several demonstrations in Bil’in, in Hebron and in Nabi Saleh.

Max Blumenthal, who has extensively reported on Palestinian       Emily Henochowicz experiences Israeli crowd control
                                                                                                                                   tactics first hand…

protests and has had the IDF launch tear gas grenades at him personally, told me that the Israeli soldiers always fire tear gas
shells like bullets at Palestinian kids. As he found out first hand, they even target American citizens who show up to support or report on the Palestinian cause. ”An Israeli soldier shot California resident Tristan Anderson directly in the head with a high velocity tear gas canister in a March 2009 protest in Nilin, leaving Tristan partially handicapped and suffering slight cognitive damage. New York City college student Emily Henochowicz lost her left eye when an Israeli soldier shot her directly in the face with an aluminum tear gas canister at a May 2010 protest at the Qalandiya checkpoint,” according to Electronic Intifada.

Isn’t plausible deniability a wonderful thing?

And now we see the same deadly anti-protester grenade-launcher brandished in Berkeley, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and much of the Vietnam anti-war movement.

The fact that Berkeley’s police department would even consider adopting the same deadly weapons and tactics for “crowd control” against the town’s own students and citizens that are being used by Israel against stateless Palestinians in the occupied territories, and by Egyptian and Bahraini security forces against pro-democracy demonstrators, is as alarming as it is appalling. But it should not come as surprise to anyone who’s read Max Blumenthal’s jaw-dropping investigative article exposing the Isrealification of America’s law enforcement. Published (and re-posted here on The eXiled) just a few weeks ago, it details the collaboration and close partnerships that have been emerged over the past decade between Israeli security forces and U.S. police departments in towns and counties all across the country.

To quote from Blumenthal‘s article:

In October, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Alameda Department turned parts of the campus of the University of California in Berkeley into an urban battlefield. The occasion was Urban Shield 2011, an annual SWAT team exposition organized to promote “mutual response,” collaboration and competition between heavily militarized police strike forces representing law enforcement departments across the United States and foreign nations.

At the time, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department [Berkeley and Oakland are part of Alameda County --YL] was preparing for an imminent confrontation with the nascent “Occupy” movement that had set up camp in downtown Oakland, and would demonstrate the brunt of its repressive capacity against the demonstrators a month later when it attacked the encampment with teargas and rubber bullet rounds, leaving an Iraq war veteran in critical condition and dozens injured. According to Police Magazine, a law enforcement trade publication, “Law enforcement agencies responding to…Occupy protesters in northern California credit Urban Shield for their effective teamwork.”

Training alongside the American police departments at Urban Shield was the Yamam, an Israeli Border Police unit that claims to specialize in “counter-terror” operations but is better known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and long record of repression and abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Urban Shield also featured a unit from the military of Bahrain, which had just crushed a largely non-violent democratic uprising by opening fire on protest camps and arresting wounded demonstrators when they attempted to enter hospitals. While the involvement of Bahraini soldiers in the drills was a novel phenomenon, the presence of quasi-military Israeli police – whose participation in Urban Shield was not reported anywhere in US media – reflected a disturbing but all-too-common feature of the post-9/11 American security landscape.

The Israelification of America’s security apparatus, recently unleashed in full force against the Occupy Wall Street Movement, has taken place at every level of law enforcement, and in areas that have yet to be exposed. The phenomenon has been documented in bits and pieces, through occasional news reports that typically highlight Israel’s national security prowess without examining the problematic nature of working with a country accused of grave human rights abuses. But it has never been the subject of a national discussion. And collaboration between American and Israeli cops is just the tip of the iceberg.

To repeat: Berkeley cops were training alongside security forces from Israel, Bahrain, Jordan, Singapore, Qatar and  the United Arab Emirates right on the UC Berkeley campus, where I went to school, and just a few blocks away from the same Occupy Berkeley encampment that they would later test their new brutal skills on–all of it with support from corporations like AT&T, Sisco Systems, Chevron, FedEx, Marriott, Oracle and Prison Health Services, among others.

This is blowback of the worst kind. All that military-monetary support that went into propping up friendly totalitarian/apartheid countries by way of keeping their restive populations under control is now coming back home, with all the valuable lessons tested out in countries across the world now just starting to be applied here against the first rumblings of post-financial crisis dissent and discontent.

Berkeley and Oakland are not the only police departments that have benefitted from Urban Shield’s recent apartheid/authoritarian crowd control training. Below is a full list of participants from last year’s Urban Shield. Check to see if your local cops have been trained up, too. That way, you won’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself looking down the barrel of a grenade launcher at your local Occupy protest.

Yasha Levine is an editor of The eXiled.

Copyright The Exiled.




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