The Home Front
Various dispatches from the anti-war movement around Austin.
Jackson Lee on Iraq
One of the most moving moments of the March 15 Capitol peace rally occurred when U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, asked U.S. war veterans to approach the speaker's stand. "You honor me with your presence," Lee told the crowd of vets, who among them had served in World War II, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Lee asked the crowd of at least 7,000 demonstrators to shout against the war "like you've never shouted before."
Jackson Lee has become one of the most outspoken opponents of the Bush administration's war against Iraq, sponsoring a congressional resolution advocating the repeal of Congress' October endorsement of the war. "Those of us who are opposed to the war are made to look frivolous," Jackson Lee said. But "in a civilized world, war should be the last option and never accepted as the only option." She would prefer dealing with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein via a war crimes tribunal, which would spare the lives of the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers who are likely to die in combat. When Germans brought down communism during the fall of the Berlin Wall, she recalled, "not a single shot was fired."
She called the Bush administration's failure to consult with Congress before deciding to go to war her "greatest heartbreak." "How in the world can you not debate this question of war?" she asks. "What we're talking about is disrespecting the people of the U.S. I'm not afraid of going to the floor and losing the vote [to repeal the war], but at least we'd be fighting against the backdrop of the voices of America. Do we not want to reaffirm the U.S. Constitution?"
-- Lauri Apple
Tasting the Mace
Throughout the long day and evening of the March 20 anti-war protests on Congress Avenue and at UT, the Austin police appeared for the most part admirably determined to refute the cops-are-pigs stereotypes. Unfortunately, at the very end of the protest, one particular officer apparently decided to disgrace his fellows.
Until about 8:20pm, relations between police and protesters had been surprisingly good. When UT protesters decided to sit down and block off the Drag, APD made a decision to be hands-off and let the rally run its course. Later that night, as the long day's events moved toward a close, about 50 activists decided to stage a sit-in on the Congress Avenue bridge. The police began making arrests, which at first appeared to go smoothly and without violent incident. Thousands of other protesters and members of the news media wanted to observe the arrests, but were blocked by a line of riot police that slowly inched southward, toward the crowd. That seemed to be sufficient crowd control -- although much of the crowd was not complying with an order to move to the sidewalks, they weren't offering any active resistance either, steadily backing away from the police line.
But that retreat apparently wasn't enough for one officer -- who walked in front of the line and began spraying pepper spray into protesters' faces. The officer (despite a request from the Chronicle, APD still hasn't provided his name, and riot control cops don't have nametags or badge numbers on display) didn't discriminate in his aim. A crowd of news media -- including this reporter -- got sprayed as well, despite the presence of numerous television cameras and microphones that quite clearly distinguished reporters from protest participants.
APD spokesman Kevin Buchman told the Chronicle that the spraying was provoked by an individual striking an officer with a stick or a sign. Buchman said that after that individual was subdued, "the crowd became aggressive and started posturing toward the police officers and making aggressive moves to police." He said some individuals had obtained rocks from below the bridge, and a decision was made to "disperse" the crowd. "No news media were intentionally sprayed."
Buchman's description of the events directly contradicts what this reporter, who had been circulating throughout the crowd, witnessed.
The officer's decision to spray mace initiated a stampede, and whatever goodwill the cops had enjoyed to that point was squandered by the attack. For the rest of the night, the now-livid crowd chanted "Shame on you," and "This is what a police state looks like." Several yelled, "This is why people hate the police."
One activist asked another officer what she had been sprayed with, and he replied, "Pepper spray. We'll spray you with more if you don't leave." The protester, standing on the sidewalk -- as she had been ordered to do by supervising officer Lt. Darrell Boydston -- asserted that the sidewalk was public property. "Not today it's not," said the officer, and the riot squad then forced the crowd completely off the bridge and onto Barton Springs Road, before launching more pepper-spray blasts. The crowd dispersed shortly before 9pm. -- Lee Nichols
Doggett on Peace and War
Some comments on the war from Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett, including his "Prayer for Peace," delivered on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives March 20, 2003:
Today, in this troubled world,
Many are moved to prayer and sober reflection.
We lift up our voices,
For the safety of America's sons and daughters
Bravely executing their orders in the Persian Gulf;
For the many innocent civilians, who join them in harm's way;
For the many patriots for peace in this country,
May they express their well-justified concerns in ways that unite more Americans
In our shared concern for humanity,
Rather than acting in ways that reinforce fear and alienation.
Our democracy is stronger when it respects the views of all people.
"I normally, and I still do, support our military and the fine work they are doing ... but I cannot support a failed foreign policy." (Rep. DeLay, House floor speech, April 28, 1999)
Those words of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay during the Kosovo military action have never been more appropriate than today.
While many can be certain to take credit for any swift military victory that may ensue, this administration must also accept responsibility for the cost of conflict in blood, money, and insecurity to our families. It may take decades to undo the damage to our safety wrought by misguided policies and the failure of diplomacy.
Up Against the (Chalk) Wall at UT
Student activist Jon Bougie of UT's Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice didn't expect chalking anti-war messages to lead to four stitches in his head and a pair of broken glasses. The graduate student alleges that last Wednesday night a UT police officer attacked him outside the student union for chalking sidewalks and planters to publicize the following day's anti-war rallies. He and two other activists (he declined to provide their names) were cited for criminal mischief, a Class C misdemeanor.
"I was about 20 feet away from [Bougie] when it happened," said fellow activist Matt Korn. "He was crouched down, writing on a planter on the West Mall." The officer tackled Bougie from behind without warning, Korn says -- causing Bougie's head to hit a wall -- then held Bougie's head down and cuffed him. Paramedics were called to treat Bougie's wounded head; eventually he was released to go to the hospital. "The police accused him of trying to flee, but he was in the same spot where he was chalking" when they took him down, Korn said. Earlier that evening, Korn claims a Student Union staffer told the activists they could chalk away, as long as they didn't touch the buildings.
UTPD Chief Jeff Van Slyke says that when officers approached Bougie, he moved left and right -- "which indicated an attempt to flee." Given that it was nighttime, he says, the officers abided by their training and took Bougie down to protect themselves in case he was armed. Interestingly, though the arresting officer maintains that Bougie was trying to escape, he wasn't charged with resisting arrest. "In the officer's mind that did not constitute resisting arrest," Van Slyke said.
Though chalk seems harmless and washes away in the rain, UT staff spent hours cleaning up the marks left by the activists, Van Slyke said: "This was not a tic-tac-toe type of deal." UTPD has a file of 12 pictures showing "huge" amounts of chalking, he adds; those pictures are now in an evidence file, and will be made available when a court date is set for Bougie and the others. Meanwhile, Bougie is seeking counsel -- and planning to continue organizing against the war, though maybe without chalk. -- L.A.