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June 2000 Columns
xmag.com : Junel 2000 : Secret Cabal Sauce

Secret Cabal Sauce
by Jim Redden


When the local May Day march degenerated into a running street battle, the blame immediately fell on the protesters. Law enforcement officials, local politicians and the news media accused the marchers of not having a parade permit, as though that justified the small army of riot gear-equipped police officers who used pepper spray, steel pellet-filled "bean bag" shot gun rounds and billy clubs to push them around town.

That very evening, a story on the Oregonian's website reported that the police were "disturbed that the marchers were disrupting traffic and had not obtained a parade permit." The article went on to cite Lt. Dorothy Elmore of Central Precinct as saying that although the marchers had a permit to organize at Dawson Park in East Portland, they "violated that permit when they marched to the South Park blocks downtown." It noted that Detective Sgt. Mike Hefley, the official police spokesman, said the marchers had a permit for the South Park Blocks, "but no parade permit."

Even State Senator Avel Gordly picked up on this theme, telling the Oregonian, "if they don't have a permit to march, then they should." And the issue was a major topic on KXL radio the next morning, with talk show host Lars Larson repeatedly citing the lack of a parade permit as justification for the police actions.

“A grandmother went to jail for 45 days for refusing to move from a sidewalk while picketing outside the home of an animal researcher.”

But many Portlanders were undoubtedly puzzled how the lack of a permit could justify the heavy-handed police tactics they saw on the TV news that night and the following days. Indeed, by May 9th when Mayor Vera Katz and the Police Chief Mark Kroeker appeared before a crowd of 700 angry citizens at a community forum on the incident at the Maranatha Church, no one was talking about the permit issue anymore.

In fact, the Portland police routinely use such minor infractions to arrest protesters and disrupt their events—and so do other police agencies across the country. In the past few months, demonstrators have been arrested for dropping a flower in a public park and stepping off a curb and crossing the street without a walk signal. Each time, the police say the person they arrested was "breaking the law." These demonstrators are hauled down to the Justice Center, where they are booked. But the charges are almost always dropped or reduced to a violation, the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Chris Vellucch, founder of the Activist Civil Liberties Committee in Sacramento, says he knows of similar incidents across the country. In one case, a grandmother went to jail for 45 days for refusing to move from a sidewalk while picketing outside the home of an animal researcher. The charge was criminal trespass. Vellucch himself was charged with conspiracy to commit criminal trespass for not using a cross walk. Although jaywalking is a mere violation, conspiracy is a felony. The charge was dropped a year later.

Police also use such tactics to harass and intimidate political activists. One of the most ridiculous incidents occurred on March 28 of this year when two local animal rights activists, Craig Rosebraugh and Leslie Pickering, were leaving the Multnomah County Library. According to Rosebraugh, as the two men started to drive away, their car was immediately pulled over by two police vehicles, which blocked all the lanes on busy SW 13th Avenue. As a crowd gathered around, a police lieutenant cited Rosebraugh and Pickering for jaywalking.

"It was completely absurd," Rosebraugh says. "I could see the officers in the cars laughing. People were jaywalking right in front of us as he gave us the citations. But it was proof that the police were following us around town, just looking for an excuse to hassle us."

Rosebraugh doesn't mind the citation. He looks at it as an opportunity to make the police waste even more of their time. He and Pickering are fighting the charges, meaning the officers who cited him will have to take time off from active duty or their own time to testify against them at some future trial.



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