Forty injured as police fire rubber bullets at peace protesters
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Tuesday April 8, 2003
Police opened fire with rubber bullets yesterday on anti-war demonstrators in Oakland, California, in what was the first such action during the current round of anti-war protests. Organisers said that around 40 protesters were injured, one seriously.
More than 700 protesters had gathered yesterday morning to picket the local shipping company, APL, which transports munitions and ammunition worldwide. Organisers said police opened fire after ordering them to disperse.
"It was a peaceful, legal picket, not a blockade," said David Solnit, of Direct Action to Stop the War, a network of direct action groups. "We have a tradition of pickets here. We did it with apartheid ships. The police gave an order to disperse, which is unusual, and then they didn't give people enough time to disperse. They fired rubber bullets, wooden bullets and beanbags right into the crowd."
One man lifted up his shirt to show a welt about the size of a baseball, and several were hit as they were moving from the scene, as evidenced by large bruises on their backs.
"I have been to many protests over the years, and I have never seen police resort to shooting people because they didn't like where they were standing," said Scott Fleming, 29, a lawyer hit several times in the back. "They had loaded guns and started charging."
Mr Solnit said that one demonstrator was in hospital, three had been hit in the face and between 30 and 40 injured. "It was a cross-section of the local community here - my friend's grandpa, a lot of school folks and trade unionists," he added. "We have never had this level of violent response. The central issue we were out for was to stop this war."
Another protester, Sasha Wright, whose father and brother are longshoremen, said: "We want to send a strong message that there will be no business as usual for corporations complicit in this illegal war that threatens the lives of countless US troops and Iraqis."
Danielle Ashford, a spokeswoman for Oakland police, said a warning had been given to demonstrators before rounds were fired. "We gave our dispersal order. We gave them ample time to disperse. When we give our dispersal order, that's pretty much it."
Local council members in Oakland said yesterday that they would seek an inquiry into what had happened and why the police had opened fire. Around 30 people were arrested for public order offences.
There were also protests and demonstrations in San Francisco and New York. In San Francisco police arrested about 20 protesters who blocked the downtown Federal Building.
In New York around 30 people were arrested in Manhattan.