(en) Eugene Police brutalize urban tree-sitters

Lyn and Shawn (linjin@tao.ca)
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 06:30:35 pst

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0=0 From the editor - The OTHER Paper --Eugene, Oregon, June 3, 1997

The following article will appear as the front page lead story in the June issue of the Other paper. It was completed at 12:30 am on June 3rd, and will begin to be distributed by mid-morning the same day. Quite a feat for what has been as much a journal of progressive opinion as a newspaper! We invite you to find a copy [widely distributed as of Wednesday morning] and see for yourself how the stories we publish connect to the core issues raised by last weekend's events. We welcome your comments, your participation and your support. Our e-mail address is <top_staff@efn.org

I watched the Council Forum on Cable Access while we were pasting up the paper. Our reporter, Kurt Kamin, was at the Council Chambers 'til 10; then he recorded the Council members' comments from our remote production facility while he wrote up the meeting, so our coverage doesn't drop one stitch.

evidence provided by citizen, police and media video and photos, constitute a very strong argument that, if we really want it, a Citizen Police Review Board is within our grasp. It would be an eminently rational outcome to an otherwise sad and painful episode.

As for our activist-for-hire Mayor, the Other paper department of sardonic investigative research plans to do an in-depth geneological study as to exactly which planet he hails from.

Paul Prensky, for the OTHER paper

================================================================= @@

Trees and defenders cut down

by Kurt Kamin

On Sunday morning, June 1, downtown Eugene resembled a battleground, as police officers confronted and suppressed hundreds of people protesting the removal of trees to make way for the planned Broadway Plaza parking garage, commercial space and apartment complex.

By mid-day, 22 people had been taken into custody, the cutting was completed, and scores of onlookers were left outraged at the tactics used by the police and the City in order to expedite the initiation of the $24 million development project.

Eleven protesters, who had entered the fenced-off area between Lincoln and Charnelton and were occupying several old maple trees, were forcibly removed by police with the aid of Fire Department 'ladder buckets' and copious amounts of pepper spray, while many others along the perimeter of the two-block area, including bystanders, were suppressed with pepper spray and tear gas.

According to several eyewitnesses, police arrived at the scene with two fire trucks around 6 a.m. Using their ladder buckets, police cut away branches and reportedly sprayed the tree-sitters as they clung to limbs 25 to 35 feet above the ground. Some of the tree-sitters climbed to the ground, but others endured repeated doses of pepper spray at close range before being apprehended.

The crowd on the ground swelled to over 100 and became increasingly agitated and vocal, and, at 8 a.m., was warned via bullhorn by police Lt. Becky Hanson to vacate the perimeter of the fence. After the warning, officers wearing gas masks began using the non-lethal pepper spray to control people pushing against a yellow police tape and making threatening gestures, according to police site commander Brian Terrett.

The police designate pepper spray "debilitating," but use it to defend themselves when they feel threatened. Sprayed head-on, and in copious amounts, it can be "incapacitating." This makes a real difference here, as the tree-sitters were up to 30 feet above the ground. Luckily, no one fell.

The protest was completely peaceful until the police started macing the crowd, stated Bob Eakin, a Eugene resident who arrived at the scene about 6:30 a.m. "I was sitting here peacefully protesting the fact that they were cutting trees, but I ended up protesting the police brutality that I saw happening all day today. I saw nothing but police brutality from seven o'clock on," Eakin said.

According to Karen Stingle, an eyewitness who arrived at 7 a.m. to protest the planned cutting, police gave only 15 to 30 seconds forewarning before spraying the crowd. She said she was appalled at the treatment of one protester who police apprehended for knocking down a section of chain link fence surrounding the cutting zone. "They got him down very quickly, and at that point they sprayed him in the face," Stingle said. "He kept saying, 'I'm not resisting, I'm not resisting,'" she added.

Stingle was also one of an estimated 50 bystanders near the intersection of Broadway and Charnelton who were subjected to tear gas at about 11:30 a.m. According to several eyewitnesses, police warned the crowd to move onto the sidewalk, and about 5 minutes later, a canister of tear gas was lobbed by police and landed in the crowd. Witnesses said several children were exposed to tear gas during the incident, and at least one person was treated at Sacred Heart Medical Center for respiratory difficulty.

City Councilor Betty Taylor, who opposes the Broadway Plaza project, suffered a similar fate. According to Taylor, she was informed by Terrett at 8 a.m. that the pepper spray and tear gas assault was to begin in 10 minutes. As Taylor went to inform protesters, she ended up inhaling fumes from about 20 feet away.

Taylor is one of two current City Councilors to oppose this project. It has been in the formal planning process for more than eighteen months, and got by the scrutiny of two neighborhood organizations, and of former Councilors Barbara Keller, Shawn Bowles and Kevin Hornbuckle as well.

It was only after notices were posted on the trees and in the parking lots that opposition arose. The City can hide behind the 'legality' of this urban clear-cut, but several dozen people's pleas went unheeded for over a week, and a lot had to have gone on behind-the-scenes setting up Sunday's harsh unfolding of events.

Taylor said she attempted to delay the cutting in late May as opposition to the Broadway Plaza project mounted. She said the public became aware of the impending demise of the trees after notice was given on May 20. Council members received notice on May 29 that the cutting was to take place on Sunday rather than on the originally scheduled Monday, in order to "avoid problems with traffic," according to Asst. City Manager Linda Norris's e-mail message to Councilors that evening. Taylor asked City Administrator Jim Johnson to delay the proceedings until after Monday's scheduled City Council meeting, but Johnson was reportedly told by Mayor Jim Torrey that he didn't have the authority to issue a delay.

Torrey watched from his car from 6-10:30 a.m. as the events unfolded on Sunday. He defended the actions of the police, saying, "If they're not going to move, we have to make some effort to move them. If you allow things to get out of hand, then you allow the risk of someone getting injured."

The city is planning to replace the 40 logged trees with 89 saplings as part of the new parking garage/shops/apartments complex. Officials said the perimeter trees needed to be cut because their roots extend within the planned underground parking area. Critics say the cutting violates the city Charter, which prohibits the cutting of 'heritage trees' that are over 50 years old without a public election.

Others are hinting at the possibility of suing the city for failing to comply with federal laws to assess the potential impact of the cutting on native wildlife inhabiting the area. Animal rehabilitators searched the site for injured birds and other animals early Sunday evening as a smaller crowd reassembled for a candlelight vigil. Several protesters camped at the jail on Sunday and said they are planning another protest at the Federal Building at noon on June 4. Meanwhile, Chambers Construction has begun cleaning up the downed trees and pulling up asphalt and concrete to begin cutting trenches for the project's sewer lines. Showdown at the City Council Forum

At their June 2 meeting, the Eugene City Council listened for nearly three hours as angry constituents voiced their opposition to city and police action during the June 1 Broadway Plaza protest. More than 60 people spoke during a public forum as approximately 150 packed the City Council chambers. Speakers were nearly unanimous in their condemnation of police conduct and the decision to cut 40 trees at the Broadway Plaza site.

Mayor Jim Torrey and other Council members sat stone-faced as speakers described what they witnessed during the Sunday morning protest. Several of the 11 protestors who were forcibly removed from trees by police spoke of their arrests, describing the pain of being pepper-sprayed as they attempted to keep up their vigil. Others recounted their experience of being tear-gassed, testifying that children and other bystanders were needlessly subjected to harm.

"You, the City, used intentional use of pain repeatedly in a non-emergency situation to change behavior," stated Eugene resident David Oaks. "That's actually the definition of torture Mr. Torrey," Oaks concluded.

"The rules of engagement that the police and the mayor supported prescribed violence as a first resort in the face of civil disobedience," stated another of the speakers.

About ten speakers called for the formation of an independent review board to assess police conduct. Many demanded that the Council denounce the actions of the police during Sunday's protest. Others expressed sadness and disillusion with city government.

"This is not about trees to me, but a flawed process," said one speaker. "Information is not reaching concerned constituents before the process passes them by," she added.

Following the public forum, the marathon session culminated with statements by each Council member and, finally, by the Mayor.

Councilor Bobby Lee was obviously moved by the testimony, and said that his experience at the site on Sunday evening had made him feel powerless. He defended the concept of compact development and urged more citizen involvement in the planning process. "We can come together to produce a good product that all of us can agree with, but it means all of us have to participate to a certain extent from the beginning," Lee said.

Betty Taylor was the one Councilor who seemed to speak with, not at or to, those who had spent more than three hours for the chance to testify. She recounted her experiences [described earlier in this article] and concluded that, though she was dubious when the matter was last discussed by Council, she is now convinced of the need for a Review Board.

Councilors Farr and Swanson-Gribscov conceded the need to see all the videotapes of Sunday, and to grudgingly dig up the corpse of the aborted attempt the last Council made towards developing a civilian police review process. Councilor Ken Tolanaar said he felt the Mayor was being maligned, but stopped short of discussing any information he may have which would make the case for that. Councilor Tim Laue spent his two minutes defending the Council. Councilor Scott Meisner said that the Council would have to function as an ad-hoc civilian review board.

Last to speak was Jim Torrey. He skirted around any notion that he might bear responsibility, with ensuing accountability, for how what occurred Sunday came about. He said that, in 4 hours of viewing what transpired, he saw no instance of inappropriate behavior by the police. "My response [to police on Sunday] was that we need to make sure that we do not harm these people, but we can not allow these people to make decisions that are contrary to legitimately decided issues by this council," Torrey stated.

City Manager Vicki Elmer said she would review all of the allegations made during the public forum, and invited the public to participate in such reviews.


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