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Demonstrators sue city officials after protest

By The Associated Press


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PORTLAND, Ore. — Demonstrators who were met with pepper spray and rubber bullets in downtown Portland when they protested a visit of President Bush say they are suing the city and its top officials.

Hundreds of chanting, yelling demonstrators gathered about half a block from the Hilton Hotel where Bush was holding a fund-raiser for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., on Aug. 22.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for pain and suffering and violation of First Amendment rights, an order establishing a civilian police-review board and a cease-and-desist order banning the use of the spray and rubber bullets at peaceful gatherings, said Alan Graf, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Graf said the suit was filed on Oct. 25 in U.S. District Court and that damages would be determined at the trial.

Plaintiffs include political activist Lloyd Marbet and Don Joughin and Corinna Andrews and their three young children, aged 11 months to six years. The children's parents said they took them to a hospital after they were doused with pepper spray.

The lawsuit names the City of Portland, Mayor Vera Katz, Police Chief Mark Kroeker and others as defendants.

"We believe the City of Portland is using the rhetoric of terrorism to chill dissent," Graf said in a news release. The release claimed the protest was peaceful and legal. It said several people were sprayed in the face at close range.

Katz's spokeswoman, Sarah Bott, said Katz had not seen a copy of the lawsuit and in any case would not comment on pending litigation.

When a handful of demonstrators leaped onto a police car, banging on its windows, two Portland officers fired rubber stingballs. A third Portland officer fired rubber projectiles at another demonstrator who he said was about to hurl an object at police.

Shortly after the incident, Police Chief Mark Kroeker defended the use of the rubber bullets. "I think it was absolutely appropriate," he said then. "That was absolutely proper." Kroeker said the rubber munitions were fired to protect officers.

Meanwhile, in Eugene, Ore., police are reaching out to the cityís anti-war groups to try to head off street battles if the United States goes to war against Iraq.

Capt. Steve Swenson, in an e-mail sent to local activists and community leaders, said the department was trying an outreach approach in hopes of "establishing, strengthening and maintaining a level of rapport and ongoing communications between the police and peace groups."

The activists have yet to grasp the olive branch. Only one attended a meeting this week hosted by police at City Hall. A few other people showed up with video cameras and tape decks to document the gathering.

"One of the key points we wanted to make in trying to reach out to the peace groups is that we are here to protect your right to assemble and to free speech, but we also have an obligation to protect the community from those who want to go beyond lawful assembly into the area of civil disobedience," Swenson said.

"We've had violent, damaging outbursts that go back to the Vietnam era. We've seen it during the (Persian) Gulf war" in 1990.

Many activists recall the violent clashes with police in June 1999 as well other demonstrations. Others are disturbed by police reaction to the current protest by a group of homeless campers in downtown Eugene, local activist Trish Binder said. She attended the Oct. 24 meeting at City Hall, primarily to videotape it, she said.

"They don't seem really interested in helping people exercise their rights, but seem more interested in depriving people of their rights," she said. "They are not to be trusted."

Said Michael Carrigan, program manager for Oregon Peaceworks: "There is a level of mistrust that's going to be very difficult for Eugene police to overcome."

Another challenge facing both the police and pacifist activists is the wide array of opinions and tactics used by individual members and groups. No one person, or even a handful of people, can represent everyone involved in a demonstration, even if they were so inclined, said Hope Marston, a local political activist.

"The peace community is huge and goes all the way from the far, far left to encroaching on the middle," Marston said. "We have to honor the entire spectrum of the peace community. If people want to walk into the streets and block traffic, I don't have a quarrel with that."


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