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Reputation on the Line: Demonstrations

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  • Dan Clore
    May 25, 2000 Reputation on the line: Demonstrations - The Police Commission working to prevent a June 18 repeat By TRICIA SCHWENNESEN The Register-Guard
    Message 1 of 1 , May 27 8:03 PM
      May 25, 2000

      Reputation on the line: Demonstrations -
      The Police Commission working to prevent a June
      18 repeat

      By TRICIA SCHWENNESEN
      The Register-Guard

      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
      accounts.

      "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
      program manager.

      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
      that arise.

      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
      the re-enactment.

      "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
      first aid.

      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.
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