The condition of former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, 24, who was badly injured when he was struck in the head reportedly by a projectile fired by police Tuesday night during Occupy Wall Street protests in Oakland, Calif., was upgraded from critical to fair condition overnight.
Olsen's injury has become a rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide, and Oakland organizers said they would stage a general strike over what a spokeswoman called the "brutal and vicious" treatment of protesters, including the young Iraq war veteran.
At the downtown plaza where he was hurt, several hundred supporters turned out Thursday night for a candlelight vigil in which fellow activists from a group called Iraq War Veterans for Peace addressed the crowd. One drew loud cheers when he said the police chief or mayor should resign.
Olsen "responded with a very large smile" to a visit from his parents, Highland General Hospital spokesman Warren Lyons said at a late-afternoon press conference on Thursday.
"He's able to understand what's going on. He's able to write and hear, but has a little difficulty with his speech," Lyons said.
He said doctors had not operated on Olsen yet and were waiting to see if swelling in his brain eased.
There are conflicting reports about how Olsen's injuries were sustained. Some say the police, who were trying to clear the plaza of demonstrators, aimed at peaceful protesters and fired both tear gas canisters and stun grenades into the crowd.
Protesters sought to retake that plaza on Tuesday night and were repeatedly driven back by police using stun grenades and tear gas. It was during one of those clashes that protesters say Olsen was struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police.
The hospital has confirmed Olsen was hurt during the protest, but could not say how he was wounded. Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan had told a news conference his department was investigating the incident.
He said police had fired tear gas and bean-bag projectiles when protesters defied orders to disperse. He also said that some demonstrators had pelted police with rocks and bottles.
Olsen is believed to be the most seriously wounded person yet in confrontations between police and activists since Occupy Wall Street protests began last month in New York.
Watch a video that was posted on the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site that was reportedly taken moments before Olsen was injured below. +Warning: Some of the images are violent.+
Now, OWS protesters in Oakland plan to stage a general strike next Wednesday, designed to shut down the city, and many care calling for the resignations of Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
Quan issued an apology late Thursday for the violence that occurred at the OWS demonstrations. She said, in part:
We support the goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement: we have high levels of unemployment and we have high levels of foreclosure that makes Oakland part of the 99 percent too. We are a progressive city and tolerant of many opinions. We may not always agree, but we all have a right to be heard.
I want to thank everyone for the peaceful demonstration at Frank Ogawa Park tonight, and thank the city employees who worked hard to clean up the plaza so that all activities can continue including Occupy Wall Street. We have decided to have a minimal police presence at the plaza for the short term and build a community effort to improve communications and dialogue with the demonstrators.
Ninety-nine percent of our officers stayed professional during difficult and dangerous circumstances as did some of the demonstrators who dissuaded other protestors from vandalizing downtown and for helping to keep the demonstrations peaceful. For the most part, demonstrations over the past two weeks have been peaceful. We hope they continue to be so.
I want to express our deepest concern for all of those who were injured last night, and we are committed to ensuring this does not happen again. Investigations of certain incidents are underway and I will personally monitor them.
We understand and recognize the impact this event has had on the community and acknowledge what has happened. We cannot change the past, but we are committed to doing better.
Most of us are part of the 99 percent, and understand the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. We are committed to honoring their free speech right.
According to Iraq Veterans Against the War:
The Occupy Oakland demonstration began at a downtown library and headed towards City Hall in an effort to reclaim a site that had recently cleared by police and had previously served as an encampment for demonstrators.
Scott joined the Marines in 2006, served two-tours in Iraq, and was discharged in 2010. Scott moved to California from Wisconsin and currently works as a systems network administrator in Daly, California.
Scott is one of an increasing number of war veterans who are participating in America's growing Occupy movement. Said Keith Shannon, who deployed with Scott to Iraq, "Scott was marching with the 99 percent because he felt corporations and banks had too much control over our government, and that they weren't being held accountable for their role in the economic downturn, which caused so many people to lose their jobs and their homes."
Vigils in Olsen's honor have been ongoing in Oakland and numerous cities across the country as news of his injuries has spread.
A crowd of at least 1,000 people, many holding candles, gathered Thursday night in Oakland in honor of 24-year-old Scott Olsen, who is hospitalized with a fractured skull.
Many in the crowd shooed away Oakland Mayor Jean Quan who retreated back into City Hall after trying to address them during a tense late-night appearance. She apologized to Olsen during a hospital visit earlier Thursday....
In Nashville, police cracked down overnight on an Occupy protest camp near the Capitol under a new policy setting a curfew for the complex. Officers moved in a little after 3 a.m. and arrested about 30, who were later released after a judge wouldn't sign the warrants. About 20 protesters who stayed on a nearby sidewalk were not arrested and were still there later in the morning as state troopers stood guard at the steps to the Capitol.
Protesters also held a vigil for Olsen in Las Vegas, which drew a handful of police officers. Afterward, protesters invited them back for a potluck dinner.
"We renewed our vow of nonviolence," organizer Sebring Frehner said.
Iraq Veterans Against the War has set up a fund for Olsen. Donations can be made HERE.
The group is also asking supporters to contact Quan directly, and ask her to both investigate Tuesday's incident and allow peaceful protests to continue in Oakland.