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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

 

ACLU Decries Use of Force by Police At Bush Event
A Response to a
Jacksonville Protest, Lawyers Contend,
Is an Ominous Example of Burgeoning Militarization
By Beth Quinn


MEDFORD -- Friday, January 07, 2005: The force riot police used last fall against a crowd of peaceful demonstrators protesting a presidential visit was one of the worst examples nationwide of the growing police militarization since Sept. 11, 2001, civil liberties advocates said Thursday.

   When police wearing face shields and body armor moved without warning against a crowd of 200, they struck six people with batons and five others with plastic balls fired from rifles, said three lawyers who investigated the Oct. 14 incident in
Jacksonville for the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
   Dozens more became ill when the plastic balls released pepper spray, the investigators said. The crowd was made up of mostly middle-age people, but also included at least 20 children, elderly people and local residents who were passing by, protest organizers said.
   Police were clearing demonstrators from the sidewalks outside the Jacksonville Inn, where President Bush decided to dine instead of eating at his private cottage after a political rally.
   Police didn't ask organizers to move the demonstrators and didn't give people time to get out of the way after issuing a bullhorn order to disperse that most in the crowd couldn't hear because of the roar of a helicopter overhead, the investigators said.
   "This was an exceptionally small demonstration for a problem like this to arise," said Ralph Temple, one of the investigators and a retired staff attorney in the ACLU's
Washington, DC, office. "I don't think most police departments in the country would bring out riot police with this kind of a crowd.
   "You're supposed to use these weapons as a substitute for lethal weapons," he said at a news conference. "You don't use them just to make people move."
  
Temple and two attorneys, Jan Lofthouse and David Berger, reviewed witness statements, videotapes and news reports.
   The
Jackson County sheriff's department didn't return phone calls for comment.
   Jacksonville City Manager Paul Wyntergreen said earlier this week the city's attorney had advised officials not to comment because of possible lawsuits.
   "There's a bigger issue here in this country," said Paul Copeland, a board member of the Southern Oregon ACLU chapter. "More and more we're finding a militarization of police in the way that they relate to the citizens.
   "We have to get the police to understand that dressing up as the army and assaulting citizens is not OK."
    Last fall, city and county police officials said the Secret Service gave authorities a maximum of five minutes to clear the sidewalks when Bush was en route to the inn.
    But Andrew Hasbun, a Medford TV reporter who was part of a news pool, said Bush was at the restaurant when the confrontation began and remained there for another 30 to 45 minutes.
    The investigators have recommended that state ACLU officials take legal action, and have asked for internal investigations by city, county and police officials.

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