Chris Rice of Rock Island said he became physically ill when he first saw the video of former Moline resident Scott Olsen being struck in the head with what appeared to be either a gas canister or flash grenade fired by police at the Occupy Oakland event on Oct. 25.
Olsen, 24, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran and a member of Veterans for Peace, suffered a skull fracture leaving him for a time in critical condition, and impairing, maybe permanently, his ability to speak.
“I can’t believe that happened in my country,” said Rice, 43, an Army veteran. “It made me sick to see that. It just wrenched me. I felt total compassion for Scott.
“No matter what your opinion is, that should not happen in this country.”
Rice joined a couple of hundred people who gathered throughout the afternoon and evening Saturday at the Eagles Club in Davenport to help raise money to pay for Olsen’s medical bills.
The fundraiser included a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament as well as a silent auction and a party during which the hat was passed.
Most of the people at the event echoed Rice’s sentiments.
The benefit was organized by Dave Van Thournout, 50, of Rock Island, a friend of Olsen who said the former Marine is doing better but still must struggle through therapy.
“He wasn’t hurt overseas,” Van Thournout said. “He was hurt here in America, and he’s asking the questions, ‘Are these the freedoms I fought for’ and ‘Are these the freedoms my brothers in arms died for?’”
Olsen’s wounding is yet another strong sign that real democracy has not been reached in America, he said.
“We want real democracy in America again,” Van Thournout said. “We want the government to work for all the people. We want the money out of politics. That’s what the movement is all about.
“A lot of people died for these rights. People ought to wake up. We’re living in a police state. This ain’t the country I grew up believing in.”
Van Thournout said veterans are returning with both the physical and mental scars of war.
“And what are they coming back to,” he said. “They’re coming back to a war zone and no jobs.”
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Ben McKibbin, 26, of Davenport said that when it comes to Olsen, he thought of the May 4, 1970, shootings of protesters at Kent State University during which Ohio National Guard soldiers shot into the crowd, killing four students and wounding nine others.
“We don’t need another Kent State,” McKibbin said.
Karl Rhomberg, 62, of Davenport, looked around the room at all the young people at the event and was happy with what he saw.
Rhomberg said he was disgusted by the wounding of Olsen and then turned his attention back to the youth who had gathered in the room.
“My generation should be ashamed of itself for what they’ve done to these young people,” Rhomberg said. “They’re saddled with debt coming out of college, and the only job opportunity available to them is in the Army fighting in meaningless wars.”
Rhomberg said that the only way real change will occur is when there comes a point when there is true moral outrage in society.
“You want to talk about violence,” he said. “What about the violence of a child going to bed hungry. Food insecurity is violence. What about all the children without health insurance.
“Think about it, and you’ll realize there is violence being done every day.”