Reputation on the Line: Demonstrations
- May 25, 2000
Reputation on the line: Demonstrations -
The Police Commission working to prevent a June
By TRICIA SCHWENNESEN
Protesters are calling it a "historical re-enactment,"
but police and human rights officials are hoping it
will be anything but a repeat of history.
In fact, they're banking on neutral observers to help
defuse potential conflict during a demonstration planned
next month to mark the anniversary of last year's June
18 protest against capitalism in downtown Eugene.
The Eugene Human Rights Commission and the city's new Police
Commission are working to recruit independent community
members to watch demonstrations and provide third-party
"We're trying to find tools that will help keep people
safe and de-escalate the tension between protesters and
police," said Greg Rikhoff, Eugene's human rights
Police Chief Jim Hill asked the Police Commission and
Rikhoff to come up with a short-term plan in time for
the June 18 anniversary demonstration and a longer-range
plan for future events.
"I think we're struggling as a department and we need the
community's help," Hill said.
Rikhoff said the observer program he has in mind entails
negotiating with protesters about safety and other
concerns before an event, observing the event and then
reporting back to either a city committee or the police
department so officials can respond to any complaints
The volunteers also would act as mediators beforehand to
make sure communication lines remain open between protesters
and police, he said.
"That way it's not just police laying down the law, but
elected officials and community members representing Eugene,"
Rikhoff said. "I think it's something worth trying."
Members of the Human Rights Commission and City Council
already have monitored several protests, including last
year's June 18 protest, but have had no formal way to report
their observations for a city response.
Last year's protest - which included a handful of masked
demonstrators and others wearing the anarchist insignia -
began peacefully, but turned into a free-for-all that
included protesters throwing rocks through several business
windows, obstructing traffic and scaring motorists.
Police held off at first, then made 20 arrests and set off
canisters of tear gas as people congregated at Washington-
Jefferson Park. Eight police officers suffered minor injuries
and at least one demonstrator was injured when a motorist
attacked him with a wrench.
This year, local activists have banded together, calling
themselves Eugene Active Existence, but have been
deliberately vague about their plans and turned away a
reporter from a recent organizing meeting that was publicized
on a Web site and in fliers advertising a "Seven Week Revolt."
The "revolt" began April 20 and runs through June 18. One of
the campaign's first major events - a downtown march April 24
in honor of the birthday of Pennsylvania death-row inmate
Mumia Abu-Jamal - ended with police arresting six people on
charges of disorderly conduct and protesters accusing officers
of acting with little provocation or cause.
Unease about the confrontation prompted six Eugene city
councilors to take their concerns to the Police Commission.
Video footage of the march shot by local television crews and
videographer-activist Tim Lewis shows police tackling protesters
to the ground and headlocking others before arresting them.
Police say the videos show only one perspective of the event.
The commission responded by appointing a committee to explore
ways to keep the peace at future demonstrations, including
having neutral observers on the scene. The commission will
meet next week to continue discussions on how to set that up
before June 18.
The march - and a Critical Mass bike protest with 40
participants four weeks ago that slowed rush-hour traffic
temporarily - worry police and other city officials,
especially because of the advertised three-day "Punx General
Assembly" on June 14-17, right before the anniversary.
Police believe that the three-day event is meant to attract
activists from outside Eugene to bolster the numbers for
"If they're going to `re-enact,' then I guess they plan on
taking to the streets, that they plan on terrorizing motorists,
and that they plan on breaking windows," Hill said. "And,
obviously, we plan to not let that happen.
"There are some rules," he said. "You don't damage property,
you don't block off streets and you don't threaten people."
Police plan to have officers on overtime to handle any
disturbance - and say that can be expensive. The price tag
for police response to last year's melee was $29,402, said
spokeswoman Jan Power.
The department also is changing some of its tactics to target
leaders in a crowd. Now, instead of dispatching patrol
officers to the scene, bicycle officers are the first to
respond, allowing for greater mobility, Sgt. Scott McKee said.
Organizers with the Eugene Active Existence also are preparing.
The Existence Web site tells protesters that their purpose at
demonstrations isn't to "win," but to "get away safely." They
should "cause embarrassment and economic damage" to their
original target - but not police - and help others by giving
Steve Heslin, one of the group's organizers, says the "Seven
Week Revolt" is about building resistance - "of building up a
real anarchist community, not just a network of people
interested in anarchy theory."
The campaign's events also include such things as workshops
on "Raising Anarchist Children" and "How to Shoot and Produce
Video," a trip to a strawberry field near Woodburn to learn
more about migrant labor struggles and forums on topics
ranging from "guerrilla gardening" to sexism.
Deane Rimerman, an activist with the tree-sitting group Red
Cloud Thunder, quotes a familiar line from the movie "Network"
to explain what he sees as the effort's goal: "We want people
to say, `We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it
anymore.' That's the next level."
Reporter Jeff Wright contributed to this report.