A Brief Confrontation
by Lawrence J. Maushard
(Portland, OR August 22, 2002) -- Both sides got what they were looking for Thursday afternoon at the anti-Bush protests outside the downtown Hilton.
In a narrow stretch of Taylor between Fifth and Sixth avenues hundreds of packed-in demonstrators shouted their disapproval of administration policies -- everything from the looming attack on Iraq to corporate takeover of US politics -- until unprovoked riot police were given orders to clear the street. They pepper sprayed and baton charged protestors back on their heels several hundred feet to the nearest intersection.
"Go Home Bush! Go Home Bush!"
No life-threatening injuries were apparent but scores of protestors suffered inflamed eyes, nostrils and throats from the spray. And several protestors suffered leg wounds when they were shot at close range by police firing beanbag shotgun rounds. Many injured received makeshift relief from bystanders using water bottles to flush out the irritants. Inside the Hilton President Bush carried on as guest of honor at a GOP $1,000 a plate fundraiser primarily to benefit incumbent Oregon Senator Gordon Smith in his campaign for re-election this fall.
"No More Corporate War! No More Corporate War!"
The one-sided clash between riot police in black battle uniforms, full body padding, helmets and gas masks and the peaceful sign waving protestors lasted no more than a few minutes. First, a police official speaking through a nearly inaudible bullhorn warned the crowd that an "emergency" had been declared. The melee began when one 30ish woman standing at the police barricade was grabbed and ruffed up by several cops. She offered no resistance.
"Fascist George! Bush Sucks!"
The line of riot police then moved forcefully into the crowd, one officer letting loose with a torrent of pepper spray that washed over everyone in his path. Another officer literally threw himself into the crowd like a defensive lineman charging toward an unprotected quarterback. Individual protestors scrambled wildly to escape the burning spray whose residue eventually wafted over the entire block. However, most of the crowd stood their ground and only gave way as the advancing police line reached their individual positions.
"We're Paying Your Salary! Why Are You Doing This?!"
When the protestors had been forced back to the intersection, two squad cars with lights flashing drove straight into the crowd. The first one was immediately swarmed over by protestors with no other choice. They started slamming on the car hood and top forcing it to stop. Seeing their colleagues trapped by the crowd which had nowhere to go, police from the barricade line quickly moved in and fired beanbag rounds and what sounded like concussion grenades that scattered the car bashers and freed up their motorized comrades.
"Peaceful Protest! Peaceful Protest!"
The intersection stayed jammed with protestors but they now backed away from face-to-face taunting with the front line police. Organized chants had all died away now except for individual rants. Most of the protestors were either tending to themselves or assisting others.
"Water! Does Anyone Have Water Here!"
In addition to the prominence the local television and newspaper reports gave the protests, video of the police attacks made the intros to all three network morning programs. The anti-Bush protestors succeeded in making public, however fleeting, their strong opposition to government policies. The government and police in turn had a quick victory in easily routing the street demonstrators who were in no mood yet for pitched street battles.
(photo by LJM)