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Over 50 Protest in Riverside

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Riverside (Commentary)

By Mary Shelton

Though crowds are smaller in Riverside, we received another reminder of the dangers of protesting a war in one of California's most conservative corners.

Last week, over 50 people demonstrated in Riverside, a protest that was almost marred by tragedy as one anti-war demonstrator was attacked by two counter-demonstrators and slashed with a knife.

Another reminder of how dangerous challenging Bush, the unjust war, and conservativism can be in the Inland Empire.

The protest began peacefully, at the congested intersection of Magnolia and Central, one of the city’s busiest corners.

The police presence was smaller, but the Riverside Police Department had dispatched riot police with batons, less-lethal munition rifles and plastic handcuffs to the scene and kept them for the most part stationed at its command post of choice for this evening, Dairy Queen.

As this protest took place in a more conservative area of Riverside, there were more motorists yelling profanities and “kill them all” while extending their middle fingers than on previous nights. However, there were many honks of support as well.

Ironically, the protest occurred across the street from Riverside’s other ground-zero, the 76 gas station where Tyisha Miller was killed inside her car by four RPD officers in 1998.

Trouble brewed when four counter-protesters arrived, waving signs which said “F**k Hussain” and “War is Good” immediately trying to provoke trouble with the anti-war demonstrators.

The police seemed disinterested in what the counter-demonstrators were doing, yet when the peaceful anti-war protesters countered with more vocal chants, the department marched out its riot team.

When one protester told officers that the counter-demonstrators had moved to the corner with the most anti-war protesters and began ripping signs out of people’s hands and tearing them up, the officers response was to shrug.

Many protesters began to wonder if the counter-demonstrators were “agent provocators” placed there by police to cause problems, thus allowing the riot team to move in to “disperse” while another department officer, dressed in a green and black plaid shirt videotaped.

The profiling of activists by the department beginning once again, as it had during the Tyisha Miller protests several years earlier.

Suddenly, two counter-demonstrators attacked a man who stood near his wife and young son.

The attackers pushed him into the street and when he tried to stop them to preserve his life and safety, the other anti-war demonstrators moved to pull him away from the attackers.

Only later, did the activist realize that the lacerated cuts on his fingers were stab wounds from a knife later found on one of the assailants. His wife also suffered cuts from the knife while trying to help her husband.

Finally, the police moved in to separate the two groups and took the stabbing victim and one of the assailants to be detained and questioned, led by Officer Bradshaw.

The second assailant ran across the street and a man driving an SUV opened the door and said, climb in and I’ll get out out of here.

The SUV driver had been yelling jeers at the protesters earlier from a bar across the street. Fortunately, arriving activists took his picture and the license plate.

One of the activists said to the driver, don’t you know you are aiding and abetting a man who committed an assault? The driver said, I’m helping to get him away. Ironically, the activist who confronted him later said he believed the SUV driver was an off-duty fire fighter.

I went to talk to the man who was attacked because the officers would not let anyone near him, even his wife and child, to find out if he was okay and he showed me the wounds and I realized they were from a knife.

I talked to a Hispanic officer who was actually helpful, asking me if I knew the man who had taken pictures of the assailant. I told the officer that after they photographed the knife wounds, they should help the victim to clean the wounds so they would not get infected.

The police continued to be reluctant to release the victim and arrest the assailant, until some activists rounded up all the witnesses, walked up to the police and said, “here let’s do the trial now, here are the witnesses.”

The victim’s wife stood with her little boy, who kept asking, “are they going to arrest my daddy?” She said no, and reminded her son when a motorist yelled at the protesters to “go home” how silly that statement was, because they were home.

Finally, after an hour, the assailant was handcuffed, and taken into custody. The police told the activists that he was arrested because he had a knife in his possession. The man who had been injured returned to the demonstration.

Ironic that in cities where police officers assault activists, that in our city an activist gets nearly stabbed and it is only through a group of committed activists that his assailant is arrested. If an anti-activist sneezes, out comes the riot squad.

And it's the anti-war activists who have been searched by police for weapons, but a counter-demonstrator who used one, part of the mentality that exists with 'might makes right.'

Officer Bradshaw seemed very worried about people crossing streets w/ 'don't walk' signals, as he should be, but assault with a deadly weapon is a felony, not an infraction. Our concerns as activists is less with the police and more with a motorist proving his devotion to the war by pulling out a weapon and firing it at peaceful activists.

But the experience bonded the activists and made us stronger, more determined to get out in those very dangerous streets of the conservative bastion that’s the Inland Empire and protest the war.

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