BUSH PROTEST, CRITICAL MASS,
UNION SOLIDARITY RIDE
FACE VIOLENT POLICE TACTICS
Three times this past August, Portland Police used heavy-handed tactics against political protestors and bicycle enthusiasts.
On August 12, an organized bicycle ride of about 35 activists--and one journalist--was heading to the waterfront to show solidarity with the locked-out Longshore workers when motorcycle police reportedly corralled them, tackled one rider, and cited many others. On August 22, a loosely organized protest against President George Bush's visit to Portland got ugly when police, trying to make room for those attending the fund-raiser, fired rubber bullets, pepper spray and a "Sage gun rubber baton" at the crowd. Finally, at the August 30 Critical Mass Ride, police used pepper spray and a Taser against bicycle riders in their monthly visibility action that drew close to 800 people.
The Longshore solidarity ride was documented by journalist, Bill Lascher, in the August 22 Portland Mercury. Lascher describes a small number of motorcycle police who twice rode up alongside the solidarity ride, eventually taking him down after he tried to take pictures. "I was tackled and dragged back into the street, where I heard my camera slam against the asphalt," wrote Lascher. He states that his arm was injured and his finger cut.
The Bush protest, with over 1000 people attending, sparked the largest police presence and the most questionable use of force. As at May Day, 2000 (see PPR #21), police attempted to make an announcement to disperse the crowd, but lacked suitable equipment. Police pushed protestors with batons and eventually began using canisters (resembling fire extinguishers) of pepper spray. They also fired rubber bullets (.50 caliber "sting balls"), by some accounts point- blank at folks who were standing nearby and not doing anything threatening or illegal. At one point, officers drove a police car into the crowd, allegedly to perform an "officer rescue" (Oregonian, August 24). Observers who got a good whiff of pepper spray also included a Channel 12 camera operator, Independent Police Review Division Deputy Director Mike Hess and Outreach Coordinator Lauri Stewart, and Citizen Review Committee Vice Chair Denise Stone. Recipients of pepper spray to the face included prominent activist Lloyd Marbet and an infant.
Portland Police's response to the angry families whose children were hit with pepper spray was that "parents should not bring kids to demonstrations" (Mercury, August 29).
Also involved in crowd control that day were Beaverton police, who used pepper-spray balls. Standing behind all the plans was the Secret Service, who, contradicting White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, told the Oregonian, "We knew there were going to be protestors...The President's staff was well informed."
This should not be surprising, since the Portland Police Association (PPA--the police "union") seemed ready to rumble weeks in advance of the protest (see "Rapping Back"). In its aftermath, PPA President Robert King applauded the police in September's Rap Sheet, stating: "Well done, well done.!...The response was an excellent example of professional police work in action." After police decided to push the crowd back to Fifth Avenue, "Specific people based on their actions were targeted and sprayed, and others who were committing unlawful acts were shot with less lethal munitions."
The Police's Rapid Response Team (RRT), the 21st-century Riot Squad, has apparently been trained in "Mobile Field Force Tactics." Sergeant King explains that the RRT was created after the debacle of May Day and the subsequent New Year's Day rabble-rousing in 2001 (also PPR #21).
Apparently, these things come in threes: the August Critical Mass ride, perhaps Portland's largest ever, was attacked repeatedly by officers, including motorcycle police, who gave out 27 traffic tickets and arrested nine people. One man who was arrested was hit by a Taser, the police's new "less lethal" weapon of choice (see other article). Others were pepper sprayed, thrown to the ground, and shoved. Fred Nemo of Critical Mass told the Oregonian, "The police responded to a joyful ride with massive over-reaction" (August 31).
While police presence has continued to be heavy at Critical Mass rides since August and numerous complaints have come in of harassment, ticketing, and intimidation, the August ride was perhaps the worst in Critical Mass' eight-year history in Portland.
National Lawyers Guild attorney Alan Graf has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a number of the people injured and attacked at the Bush protest, incorporating the Critical Mass incident as proof of a "pattern and practice" of inappropriate force.
For more info, contact the NLG's A22 committee at email@example.com or 503-452-2375.
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