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Showdown in Little Rock turns ugly; police use pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protesters

Twenty six animal rights activists were arrested and dozens more brutalized by police during a protest against Stephens, Inc., in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA, on Monday, October 29. The demonstration followed a weekend of actions intended to highlight the cruel treatment of animals by UK-based Huntingdon Life Services (HLS), and to force Stephens to withdraw its financial support from the laboratory company. HLS kills 500 animals a day, mostly for testing household products and cosmetics, and not for the "medical" purposes that their public relations firm claims.

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) organized the events. People began arriving on Friday. Organizers met with police, who said their presence would be "minimal" if protesters did not "break the law" or become violent. Laws regarding public assembly and speech in Little Rock had recently changed, however, at the behest of Stephens, which pressured the Little Rock City Council into adopting a new ordinance regarding public assembly and speech. The result, brutal attacks by police on protesters, seems the intended result of the promulgation, and reflects a broader -- indeed global -- pattern of individual liberties being sacrificed to serve corporate interests.

Saturday started with a town meeting featuring speakers from activist, medical and academic backgrounds meant to "bring activists and the City of Little Rock together in mutual understanding". The meeting was followed by workshops on undercover investigation of labs, direct action, and constitutional rights. On Sunday, people gathered for a vegan barbecue and then embarked on a Parade of Homes; about 170 activists marched through the manicured residential streets where Stephens executives live to take their anti-HLS message directly to the decision-makers. Police followed the parade with a helicopter and horses, but caused little trouble.

Monday's demonstration at the Stephens headquarters in downtown Little Rock drew 200 activists with signs and puppets and 100 police in full riot gear with guns and gas masks. A protest pen surrounded by metal barricades had been set up for the demonstrators, but they quickly decided not to use it and took the streets instead. After a short march, activists lined up at the barricades, across from the police, and chanted positive animal advocacy statments. At some point an activist evidently tripped over one of the barricades, which brought down others with it. The activists stepped back, but the police charged, and the brutality began. Police pepper sprayed those trying to get away, set off a compression grenade and sent tear gas pouring through the crowd. At least two activists were shot in the face with rubber bullets at very close range. [ Monday, 1 | Monday, 2 ]

Despite this treatment, the activists took to the streets for a second march. They ended up behind Stephens, where they lined up in the street. This is when the arrests began in earnest. Police ripped masks off activists' faces and applied pepper spray from only inches away. Everyone was pushed around and abused, including the Indymedia journalist on the scene, despite her press pass. [ Monday, 3 ]

Stories of abuse in the jail began trickling in that night; police punched in the face one of the activists who had been shot in the face earlier. Those arrested may need help with bond money. A newswire story reports that in arraignments for those arrested yesterday in Little Rock, the judge ordered the activists to pay restitution, which implies guilt. In other words, the judge found them guilty without due process which is a fundamental violation of the constitution. A website has been set up to support the 26 arrestees. In related news, the North American Animal Liberation Front has taken credit for a strike against the Bank of America, Stephens' parent company, in Long Island.

Local Solidarity Action
A Portland solidarity action took place Monday at the 5th and Main Bank of America branch from 12-2. Animal rights activists held large banners, and handed out information. Photos

On-the-spot Indymedia reports: [ Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Monday, 1 | Monday, 2 | Monday, 3 ]

Background: [ Portland Indymedia: The issues and the players | City of Little Rock: Anti-free speech ordinance | SHAC: October 29 website & VIDEO | In depth: "Vivisection or Science: a choice to make" ]