Saturday, March 22, 2003

Extra security for protest: Anti-war activists question police plan

Susan Carroll
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 22, 2003 12:00 AM

PHOENIX - Police will beef up security for a war protest this weekend, spurred by concerns about a small group of radical protesters who they say have crashed peaceful demonstrations across the Valley.

"Locally, the majority (of protesters) are very peaceful," said Phoenix police Lt. Jeff Halstead. "We have a small contingent of people who want to show up and cause trouble for us, but we are prepared for that."

The "troublemakers" typically turn out in groups of five to 30 and cover their faces with bandannas to shield themselves from pepper spray and other less-than-lethal weapons, police said.

But many peaceful demonstrators have questioned police tactics at local protests.

"We are concerned that the police presence may actually be causing some of these problems," said Marty Leiberman, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent want to peacefully protest to make their point."

The concerns stem in part from the March 8 arrest of seven protesters, an incident that activists and police described differently.

To avoid such conflicts in the future, police have met with activist groups and ACLU members to work out plans to keep protesters safe and orderly and avoid arrests.

Police are offering tips for protesters to get their message out without getting arrested:

• Avoid crossing against traffic lights.

• Do not block access to roads.

• Do not lock your body to a fixed object, such as a tree, sign or bench.

"They can still show their support for peace . . . without violating any of our state laws," Halstead said.

Sue Hilderbrand, an organizer with Arizona Alliance for Peaceful Justice, said demonstrators plan to stay on the sidewalks near 24th Street and Camelback during a 48-hour vigil for peace that starts at 10 a.m. today.

"As long as we stay on the sidewalk, we won't get arrested," she said. "Our goal is to be very visible at the intersections. It's all very legal."

Hilderbrand said the police presence has raised questions about protesters' ability to freely question the war in Iraq.

"Since September 11, any sort of dissent has been considered putting America and the American government down, that we're criticizing the government," she said. "And that's not what we're doing. We're being as patriotic as anyone could possibly be because we're expressing ourselves. If we're not allowed to dissent, to question our government, then the terrorists have won."

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8543.