Rallying on Iraq

Police on point to ensure peaceful assemblies

Hood River law enforcement officers practiced crowd control skills this week in hopes of keeping the peace today between an anti-war parade and a “support your troops” rally.

The two public gatherings over the war in Iraq are slated to take place today in downtown Hood River. At noon the American Legion has organized an “informal” showing of support for the military at Overlook Memorial Park. That same Second and State Street intersection will also be the starting point for a peace parade from 1-3 p.m. that has been arranged by the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace.

A spokesman for the Fellowship for Peace group said Friday that the parade may be postponed until 3 p.m. to avoid confrontation. Mark Nykanen said organizers would meet with police at noon Friday to discuss scheduling (the meeting was after presstime; for updates, go to: www.hoodriver news.com.)

Nykanen said, “When we heard that the American Legion had scheduled their rally as close as they had to ours, we decided that for the benefit of all concerned we would see about pushing our parade back to 3 p.m. so that everybody who wants to express an opinion both for and against this war could do so without any concern about confrontation.” He said the parade was intended to remain peaceful and will be largely comprised of “families with kids in strollers.”

Law enforcement trained Wednesday to prepare for potential problems at protests or civil disobedience events that happen in Hood River County.

City Police Capt. Kevin Lynch trained about 25 city, county and state officers in the use of riot gear — including batons, tear gas and bean bag ammunition. Although he said the law enforcement community will be at a high state of readiness for any problems, he is hopeful the use of force would be necessary.

“You have the right to protest, we understand and agree with it, but you don’t have the right to violate the rights of other people or damage property,” said Lynch.

He said acts of civil disobedience by a few individuals are ultimately paid by all taxpayers since police are forced to assume overtime costs and take time away from their regular duties to transport lawbreakers to jail.

In addition, he said business owners may also be adversely affected when streets blocked by protesters keep patrons away.

“The purpose behind this Civil Disobedience and Crowd Control training is to keep people from disrupting the normal day-to-day activities of citizens,” Lynch said.

At the March 26 exercise, Lynch briefed the participating officers on a “game plan” for handling problems with an unpredictable crowd. He warned them repeatedly to be “seriously professional” at all times, even under intense harassment.

He said credible rumors had surfaced that instigators from Portland might be attending today’s protest to take aggressive action that creates conflict (Nykanen said to his knowledge no Portland protesters are expected).

To prevent any physical altercations, Lynch said barricades will be erected between the two groups to create a “no man’s land.”

“They can yell and scream at each other as long as it doesn’t get violent,” he told the trainees.

And Lynch is no stranger to the precarious role of keeping a hostile crowd under control.

He was selected to oversee the Hood River exercise because of his one-year tour of duty as a peacekeeper between the warring Kosovars and Albanians.

From July of 1999 to July of 2000, Lynch joined other volunteer police officers and was regularly helicoptered into conflict areas with a multinational unit of soldiers. The 20-year law enforcement veteran said it was not unusual to be faced with a riot that involved 400-600 angry demonstrators.

He does not envision that, even if held simultaneously, Saturday’s events would have anywhere near that kind of threat, but joins the resolve of the entire law enforcement community that participants in the dual gathering will adhere to both the letter and intent of the Constitutional right to free speech and assembly.

“Usually a police presence is enough to deter people from breaking the law but if someone gets out of control, we’ll be there to take them into custody,” said Lynch.

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