People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
May Day 2001: Police Back Off, City Council Gives In
May Day this year stood in stark contrast to last year's workers' rights demon-stration. Last year, about 150 police used horses, ATVs, pepper spray, and "less lethal" shotguns to attack a peaceful parade of about 400 people. Twenty people were arrested, and many more injured.
This year's parade, on the other hand, brought a very different police response: 36 bike cops flanked the 1500-person crowd as it marched from the North Park Blocks up Broadway to the PSU Smith Center (Portland Tribune estimates, May 4). The police mostly behaved themselves, and no one was arrested.
The happy resolution was surprising, given the police saber-rattling leading up to the march. When the May Day coalition declined to apply for a permit, arguing that the process gives the cops too much discretion, Chief Kroeker threatened to arrest everyone in the street on May 1 (Tribune, April 24).
The May Day Coalition refused to be bullied, however, and stated their intention to march regardless, making it clear that they were organizing a non-violent event. They also repeatedly condemned police behavior, not only regarding last year's demonstration but in the Dora McCrae and José Santos Mejía Poot cases as well. Opposition to police violence was one of the three "themes" of this year's May Day demonstration, along with workers' rights and the fight against globalization.
As May 1 neared, City Council realized their position: they were powerless to stop the demonstration, couldn't afford a repeat of last year's disaster, and had pressed the permit issue too far to just let it slide. So they took the permit out themselves. Mayor Katz explained the decision thus: "Could we have kept 1,000 people on the sidewalk, and do we arrest 1,000 people if we can't?. . . There was going to be a march whether we took out a permit or not" (Oregonian, May 2).
At an April 22 meeting with the Coalition, Mayor Katz's Chief of Staff Sam Adams announced this plan and made numerous promises concerning police deployment and behavior. He said that police would keep ATVs and horses out of sight, would only enter the crowd to make arrests, and would not videotape the demonstration. It was immediately pointed out that similar promises regarding the April 21 anti-FTAA demonstration had not been kept. (That event, which did have a permit, drew about 1,000 participants, according to the April 24 Tribune. ATVs were deployed during the rally before the march, and the march itself was followed in close proximity by horse police. Conspicuous surveillance was present throughout.)
On May Day the police mostly kept their word, though they refused to say whether they would be using undercover operatives. In point of fact, PPA President Robert King was identified in the crowd early in the day and ejected from the march.
Still, the police weren't taking any chances. The PPB's 76-member Rapid Response Team (the PPB's newly trained riot squad) was stationed a few blocks away, along with the Oregon State Police's 52-member Mobile Response Team, and an armored car.
The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office also got into the spirit of International Workers' Day, urging parole and probation officers not to bring in offenders on May 1, so there'd be space for anyone arrested during the demonstration (Oregonian, May 1).
The organizers of the April 21 demonstration against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (held in solidarity with the protesters in Quebec City) also managed to force some concessions from the City Council. Organizers refused to sign the "indemnity clause" required of permit applicants. Basically, this clause holds the organizers responsible for anything that goes wrong during a demonstration.
City Council, under pressure from the upcoming May Day demonstration and eager to show how easy and reasonable the permitting process is, decided to waive the requirement and has promised to review it in a more lasting way later.
Said Bob Durston, Erik Sten's Chief of Staff of the indemnity clause: "No right-thinking attorney would advise their client to sign it" (Oregonian, April 24).
Portland's May Day Demonstration was the second largest in the country, slightly smaller than L.A.'s.
Copwatch trained observers for both the May Day and the anti-FTAA demonstrations.
Michigan Veterans Oppose Parade Permits
Portland isn't the only city with a restrictive permit process. In Pickney, Michigan a Memorial Day parade was canceled when veterans' groups objected to police involvement in the permitting process. American Legion Commander Leonard LaFehr took exception to requirements that organizers give 30-day advance notice, supply $1 million in liability insurance, and provide police with details on participants. Amvets Commander Bob Trudell said his group would have no part in the parade.
One member of City Council defended the process, saying "it's necessary to keep wild people under our thumbs." (Detroit News, May 17)
Berlin. Police used water cannons against a left-wing demonstration, and showed their true colors by protecting a neo-Nazi rally from counter-demonstrators.
Zurich. Police used water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas against a crowd listening to a labor speech. 200 were arrested.
London. Police used horses to box in 3,000 anti-capitalist demonstrators. Protesters responded by throwing bricks and breaking windows (Oregonian 5/2/01).
Long Beach, CA. Police used rubber bullets and other less-lethal munitions to break up a parade of about 150 people, 100 of whom were arrested (AP reports). The City Council is urging the maximum penalties against the defendants, and is seeking to collect $93,000 from them to pay for the police action (Long Beach Press-Telegram 5/16/01).
Pittsburgh, PA. Nine were arrested and dozens injured when police attacked a demonstration of 150 people (Tribune-Review 5/12/01). Police admitted to infiltrating both the march itself and the organizing leading up to it (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5/2/01).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.