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The Right to Peaceably Assemble Comes with a Price

October 27, 2011

Iraq war veteran and former Marine Scott Olson took an oath to ‘uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…’  He took that oath seriously enough to serve overseas in Iraq.  He took it seriously enough to exercise his Constitutional right to peaceably assemble to petition his Government, the one who supplied him with the uniforms he wore while serving in Iraq, for redress of his grievances.  [Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution of Michigan provides Michiganders with similar rights, over and above what is found in the federal Constitution.  Other states may do likewise in their constitutions.]  He did so non-violently.  So far, so good.  Oakland, California has budget problems so severe that their police department no longer responds to routine crimes – you’re on your own.  they responded to ‘Occupy Oakland,’ however – with rubber bullets and tear gas, a canister of which hit Mr. Olson in the head.  One Marine is down, in serious condition, because the police chose to open fire on non-violent protesters.  Olson’s fellow protesters rushed to his aid after they saw the head-wound he’d suffered; for their pains, they were tear-gassed.

‘Freedom is never free.’  That statement is repeated often enough to qualify as a truism.  This is an example of the price, paid on our shores, for a Constitutionally-guaranteed right.  We live in troubled times; it is up to us, as citizens, to hold government, our servant, accountable for the actions that it, in the person of every individual holding an office of trust, honor or profit within it, at all levels, takes, ostensibly on our behalf.  While this incident may be a regrettable case of poor judgement, the aftermath may turn out to be as important:  Will there be an independent investigation, and will the individuals responsible, from those who gave the order to use force down to the actual shooters (since ‘I was just following orders’ is not an excuse for obeying unlawful ones), be held responsible in the same way that we would be?  Will the public respond with enough passion and sustained interest to see that this is so?  That remains to be seen, and it is up to us to see to it.

Scott Olson deserves our prayers.  His actions deserve our thanks and emulation.

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