Friday, October 28, 2011

The War at Home

Scott Olsen (photo/AP)

In Boston, Massachusetts and Oakland, California, Veterans For Peace members have been assaulted by police while peacefully demonstrating on behalf of Occupy Wall Street protest groups’ constitutional rights.

The most seriously injured is Scott Olsen, a Marine vet of two tours in Iraq, who was hospitalized with head injuries after police in Oakland fired tear-gas canisters and other projectiles into an Occupy Oakland crowd assembled in front of City Hall. Olsen was wearing a Veterans For Peace T-shirt and desert camouflage field jacket and hat when he was struck in the forehead. He is also a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

“It was like a war zone,” Joshua Shepherd, a fellow vet who was standing near Olsen while dressed in his Navy uniform and holding aloft a highly visible, white Veterans For Peace flag, told The Associated Press. “Shepherd said it’s a cruel irony that Olsen is fighting for his life in the country that he fought to protect. ‘He was over there protecting the rights and freedoms of America and he comes home, exercises his freedoms and it’s here where he’s nearly fatally wounded,’ Shepherd said.”

In Boston, police knocked down, clubbed and tore Veterans For Peace and an American flag from the hands of a group of peace activist vets standing between the police assault and an Occupy Boston encampment the authorities set out to destroy. Among those dragged off to a paddy wagon was Rachel McNeil, an Army vet who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was holding an American flag. Her crime: “Rachel loudly and continuously led a chant of the Oath (I do solemly swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic); but she alternated it with ‘We have a permit.  It's called the Constitution’ and also ‘This is a peaceful demonstration,”" a fellow Vets For Peace member noted.

Rachel McNeil (right) and fellow VFP members
“VFP members are involved with dozens of these local ‘occupy movement’ encampments and we support them fully,” VFP national officers stated.  “In Boston, for example, our members, wearing VFP shirts and carrying VFP flags, stood between a line of police and the encampment, urging police to ‘join the 99%’ and not evict the protesters.  In that case, several of our members were banged and bruised when the police decided instead to carry out their eviction orders…
“As with virtually every example of the occupy movement across the country, those encamped were conducting themselves peacefully beforehand, protesting current economic, social and environmental conditions in the U.S. brought about by decades of corporate control, a criminal financial industry and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are driving the U.S. global empire into bankruptcy.  These ‘occupy movement’ participants are telling us something we need very desperately to hear.  They should be listened to, not arrested and brutalized.

“Police in the majority of cities are acting with restraint and humanity towards the encampments, but Veterans For Peace will not be deterred by police who choose to use brutal tactics.  In fact, as happens with repression everywhere, more people join the cause.”    

Indeed, as The New York Times reported today, “the wounding of an Iraq war veteran … has provided a powerful central rallying point.” Thousands of people streamed into downtown Oakland the next day for a peaceful gathering on behalf of the Occupy Oakland movement. The mayor of Oakland commended the movement’s goals. The police promised an investigation into what caused Olsen’s injuries. News reports and videos taken at the time show what happened.

“ Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, stood calmly in front of a police line as tear gas canisters that officers shot into the Occupy Oakland protest Tuesday night whizzed past his head,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported today.

"’He was standing perfectly still, provoking no one,’ said Raleigh Latham, an Oakland filmmaker shooting footage of the confrontation between police and hundreds of protesters at 14th Street and Broadway. ‘If something didn't hit him directly in the face, then it went off close to his head and knocked him down.’ The something was a projectile that apparently came from police lines, fractured Olsen's skull and put him in Highland General Hospital. Doctors upgraded his condition Thursday from critical to fair, and said they expect him to make a full recovery.”

Like many members of Vets For Peace, Scott Olsen felt it was important to demonstrate the peaceful presence of military veterans at the Occupy Wall Street encampments that have sprung up around the country. As The Associated Press noted in a report carried by Business Week and news publications nationwide, Olsen “makes a good living as a network engineer and has a nice hillside apartment overlooking San Francisco Bay. And yet, his friends say, he felt so strongly about economic inequality in the country that he fought for that he slept at a San Francisco protest camp after work.

"’He felt you shouldn't wait until something is affecting you to get out and do something about it,’ said friend and roommate Keith Shannon, who served with Olsen in Iraq.”

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