2003 police over-reaction under-revisited

In March of 2003, as an invasion of Iraq loomed ever imminent, citizens of 800 cities worldwide mounted the largest peace rally in history. In Colorado Springs three thousand people assembled in Palmer Park to urge President Bush to chose diplomacy instead of war. The participants were peaceful, but the police incited frustrations by diverting traffic from Academy Boulevard which prevented drivers from seeing the anti-war banners and eventually used tear gas to prompt the crowd to disperse.

Colorado Springs was one of only two peace rallies in the world where police used tear gas that day. Many Springs families with small children were caught with no way to escape the gas. After a subsequent review, the CSPD admitted it had overreacted. As part of a legal settlement with the people they had arrested, the department agreed to host a public meeting to discuss matters of police conduct with respect to a citizen’s right to assemble peacefully. The meeting would involve a panel discussion on the issues and would be videotaped for public broadcast and for purposes of training incoming police officers. After four years of legal wrangling, the meeting is finally scheduled to happen this Friday, May 4th, at the Senior Center on Hancock and Uintah.

What an unfortunate coincidence that the arrests this Saint Patrick’s Day happened before Friday’s citizen-police meeting. As we are now well familiar, on March 17 at the annual parade, forty five permit-holding participants were prevented from carrying peace banners in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Ten of them were brutally removed and seven of those were arrested; I was among them. The police and parade organizers still admit no wrongdoing, but bystander videos and photographs captured the police display of excessive force.

In the aftermath of the arrests, the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission has asked the Colorado Springs City Council to hold a public meeting to address police department policy with regard to what happened that day. As yet they’ve only agreed to meet in private, to acquaint themselves better with peace activists.

While we welcome a better acquaintance, the PPJPC is not interested in obtaining a permission slip to exercise our right to self expression. We are interested in every American’s natural rights and civil liberties. We hope to establish an understanding that our city police department will implement a policy to honor and respect those rights. For that purpose we are requesting a public meeting where Colorado Springs residents who were alarmed by the heavy handed law enforcement can voice concern and give their input. The meeting on Friday will only address the police misconduct of 2003.

The Saint Paddy’s Day Seven, as we are being called, currently face charges in Municipal Court for obstructing a public event. The American Civil Liberties Union has agreed to represent us because at play are violations of multiple amendment rights. The police use of illegal choke holds, menacing with a taser and reckless brutality causing physical injury fall under illegal search and seizure and citizenship rights.

We are called called the Seven but in reality we are the Saint Patrick’s Day Forty Five, because forty five of us were deprived our first amendment right to freedom of speech. The parade is described as a private event, but it is held on public property and is underwritten with public resources. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We are called the Saint Patrick’s Day Seven, but we are in reality the Saint Patrick’s Day Forty Thousand, who saw that day the attempted abridgment of a fundamental American right. A right which Americans aspire to extend to all people of all nations. Many of us watching that day had no idea we would have to fight for that right here.

Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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3 Responses to 2003 police over-reaction under-revisited

  1. Avatar Eva says:

    So what happened yesterday? The info I’ve gotten is scattered and probably inaccurate.
    What’s more, the meeting needs to be set for a time in the evening when more citizens can attend.

  2. Avatar Tony Logan says:

    The forum was about to start, when the group of plaintiffs who had won their suit against the Colorado Springs police walked in front of the audience and then announced that the city of Colorado Springs was unilaterally attempting to edit what was to be eventually broadcast to the public after the forum would end. This, they stated, was a violation of the terms of settlement in their case made by the judge.

    At that point, the moderator declared that there would now be 3 panel seats open due to this walkout, and asked for those of us from the ‘peace community’ to fill in the places of the now absent plaintiffs of the case won against the city police.

    We, of course, refused to do this, and walked out in solidarity with the plaintiffs. Who would we have been to replace the plaintiffs themselves, as the city and police were asking us to do? We would have been scabbing on the plaintiffs if we had done so.

    This left the police meeting only with themselves since they unilaterally refused to allow any others besides themselves to have the final say in what was to be edited and to be condensed into a later version to be broadcast to the public.

    The plaintiffs came from mainly the Boulder area and had only received news at the last minute of the planned action by the city to edit to their own terms the broadcast of this forum. The abrupt announcement that the plaintiffs would not participate in this forum caught all of us in Colorado Springs who attend this forum totally by surprise.

    What it did do, too, was to underline the feelings of distrust most of us in the PPJPC had that the police were trying to be manipulative with us in general. The Justice and Peace Commission had itself met 2 days earlier with the mayor and other members of the city government and police, and they had taken no action to reassure us that another police attack like that at Palmer Park in 2003 and that at the St Patrick’s Day parade this year would not once again be put into action against peaceful protesters.

    In general, the police and the city government seem to want to talk to us real sweet yet absolutely do not want to change any of their abusive policing policies. This has to change, or the city of Colorado Springs will be sure to have to endure yet more unnecessary and abusive physical attacks by its police on yet more citizens in this community.

    The city government needs to drop charge against the 7 ‘peace people’ that have been charged with crimes at the St Patrick’s Day police ambush on us, and stop trying to play mind games with the community. It is in their hands, whether or not the police will continue to unnecessarily assault citizens peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights in the days ahead.

  3. Avatar Jonah says:

    If the video was produced by public funds, which it was, then it’s public property, AND the FOIA comes into effect as well.

    Not that they give three quarters of a damn about the rights of the people, I just wonder, though, how they’re going to spin not making the video available to the people who paid for it.

    Are they going to invoke Homeland Security?

    What if we make the point at every rally, memorial or vigil, of reminding the people that the police have a history of random indiscriminate use of Tear Gas, and warn that people who have breathing difficulties should bear that in mind…?

    You see so many people going around town here with portable oxygen tanks, you gotta reckon that would be a huge issue.

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