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Saturday, March 29, 2003

Protests in Portland.

A Unitarian Universalist student minister describes his night in jail on Thursday in the following press release. (A considerably shorter version, but with feedback, appears at Portland's Indymedia site).

Brent Was, Intern Minister at First Unitarian Church of Portland was the first person arrested under Mayor Katz' and Chief Kroeker's new "get tough on protestors" policy enacted yesterday.

Yesterday, March 27, 2003 at about 4:30 I was arrested on the corner of Belmont and 32nd avenue in South East Portland. A small (30-50) person peaceful walk in support of a peaceful resolution to the current Gulf crisis was underway. I met the others, and walked with them for one block. At that point, a Portland police officer stopped me and said "Hey you, come here. Show me some ID."

I replied "Why?"

He answered "You hesitated too long in that last intersection."

I then said "I am not required to show you my identification."

To which he replied "You have a choice, show me your id or I will arrest you."

Conscious of my rights as a citizen, I said quietly "Well, I guess you have to arrest me." He did.

I was charged with interfering with a peace officer. Demanding identification papers from a peaceful citizen on the street is not a lawful order, therefore on principle, I declined to comply. I was not charged with any other offense.

I refused to surrender my identification papers because as an American citizen, a Marine Corps veteran and a member of the clergy, I was offended at the request that sounded to me too much like Soviet era police tactics. Are we all required to carry ID papers on us at al times? Or are only people who disagree with current government policy required to submit to?

I was specifically targeted by the police for harassment and arrest. I have been very visible at local protests, acting non-violently in my pulpit gown. Interviews I gave with Oregon Public Broadcasting and a local TV news station were broadcast, and the majority of the broadcast interview detailed my witness of police violence in recent demonstrations. I also called Mayor Katz' office on Wednesday to express my dismay about police violence. All of these public expressions against the war and against police brutality occurred within 36 hours of my arrest. I walked with the peaceful procession for FIVE MINUTES before being arrested, and was the only person arrested. Once in county jail, a fellow inmate, charged with DUI was released on personal recognizance. When the Sheriff's office was asked if I, as a law-abiding citizen and minister to the largest church in downtown Portland could be released on personal recognizance, the answer was no, no protestors are allowed that privilege. I was held on $2500 bail. All of these signs point to my being singled out for the political and religious beliefs I have been vocally and peacefully expressing. I am guessing the police think I am some kind of leader of these protests. Unless you call being a leader someone who is standing up for what they believe in the face of injustice, I am not a leader here. I am a minister. I am a peaceful man who does not desire strife in the streets here or anywhere else.

Why are the mayor and the chief of police denying citizens their rights to free and peaceful assembly and expression? I can only guess that they are fearful of increased violence, or a level of disruption akin to the WTO protests in Seattle. Besides a terrible, lone act of violence directed against a police officer on Thursday that I read about in the paper, every act of violence I have witnessed so far has been committed by the police. I know that our public servants are often called upon to do difficult and unpleasant jobs. When I served as a Tank officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1993-1997, I was called upon to do things that I found odious to my ethical and moral being. I contemplated long and hard on this dilemma, and followed my heart. I could no longer fulfill the duty of a Marine Corps officer; I could no longer do harm to my fellow human beings, so I did the sane and morally correct thing. I resigned my commission after four years of honorable service, including service as a midshipman on a submarine during the First Gulf War. If you are dissatisfied hurting your fellow citizens in the name of keeping the peace, please, you are morally obliged to disobey immoral orders. I call on all people in Portland, be you a protestor, a peace officer or anyone else, do no harm. Violence is never the answer to any problem.

Our nation is involved in an unjust war that is alienating our great nation from the rest of the world. My prayers are with all of those who have and will suffer. My prayers are with the parents of every person that has died and will die in this terrible war no matter where they are in the world; be they a warrior in the field, a family in their home, or a person on the street. My prayers are with our leaders that their wisdom increase and their moral courage meet the rapidly escalating violence at home and abroad.

My arrest was a very scary process, but knowing that so many people have my best interest in mind made it easier to get through. I am very proud of the members of this church, the First Unitarian Church of Portland as many are independently standing up for their rights and following the path their hearts and souls are setting for them. God watches the way of the righteous. Now, I am struggling with feelings of anger and sadness. The peace I desire in my heart and the forgiveness I need to embrace is hard to find at the moment. But sometimes I remember the graceful resistance of Jesus, Thoreau, Gandhi and the countless others who have gone before us seeking that justice that rolls down like waters and peace like an everlasting stream, and I am renewed.

For some context on the Portland protests, here's a report from this morning's Oregonian on protesters' complaints about police treatment and a longer article from the Portland Tribune about protest strategy and police response. "The city has estimated that the enhanced police coverage for war-related demonstrations could cost the Portland Police Bureau an extra $5.7 million in overtime expenses by the end of the 2002-03 fiscal year." And some lawyers hope to clog the court system with protest-related cases to force police to slow down the arrests. Oh, yes: and then there's Portland's radical antiwar movement itself.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 29 March 2003 at 3:19 PM

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