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Police Clash with Cincinatti TABD Protestors

Like WTO protesters in Seattle, activists who came to Cincinatti to oppose the forces of globalization operating at last week's Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) met stiff opposition from police.
 
 
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For complete coverage of the TABD protests, see the Cincinnati Citybeat's web site, at www.citybeat.com/tabd/index.html.

Four pivotal moments defined N16, the protests in Cincinnati against the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) Nov. 16-18 -- four confrontations between protesters and Cincinnati Police. Each involved peaceful demonstrators and officers assigned to keep the peace.

From the outset, police set a tone of intimidation that belied Capt. Vince Demasi's promises of a kinder, gentler police division. At a briefing Nov. 15, Demasi said officers would not be in riot gear unless there was a reason.

"At this point in time, we have no plans to put officers in protective gear," he said.

Police expected nothing out of the ordinary, Demasi said -- they would cover the three days of protests just as they would a football game.

"I feel real confident that this is a big to-do about nothing," he said.

But at the beginning of the first rally at noon Nov. 16, officers were on the streets in riot gear -- complete with helmets, gas masks and sponge-bullet rifles. The SWAT team was on hand, and undercover officers were videotaping the rally.

After the rally on Fountain Square, protesters marched to Kroger corporate headquarters, 1014 Vine St. Protesters remained on sidewalks, chanting and picketing, followed by about a dozen officers in riot gear. Groups of mounted officers patrolled the block. Officers in unmarked and marked vans and cars circled the Kroger Building.

The heavy police presence continued throughout the day. While members of the TABD attended a performance of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, about 100 protesters encountered a line of officers in front of Music Hall. Forty officers in riot gear flanked the building, and mounted officers stationed themselves in Washington Park.

Police set the tone, and it was not the happy song Demasi sang. To know what happened during N16, you had to be on West Fourth Street the afternoon of Nov. 17, trapped in a tunnel by police that night, searched the next morning while entering Fountain Square and set upon by a bus full of cops the afternoon of Nov. 18 on East Eighth Street.

Direct Action Gets Satisfaction

A peaceful march set out the morning of Nov. 17 from Sawyer Point to Fountain Square. A helicopter followed the march. Officers in riot gear lined streets. Mounted officers patrolled, and the SWAT team was ready.

At about 2 p.m. Nov. 17 the black-bloc began a direct action -- a tactic by demonstrators wearing all black, bandanas masking their faces. The black bloc acted in response to the massive police presence, according to Salim McCarron, of San Francisco, a videographer for the Independent Media Center.

"Police determine the tone for any protest," McCarron said. "They set a tone from the beginning that was intimidating. They didn't need to be monitoring people at the rally (the day before) or pulling out gas masks when people are just doing a picket. Bringing out the cavalry, so to speak, at such an early stage in the game sets a tone. When you set that tone, people are going to be responding to what the police are doing."

Police had approximately 200 protesters surrounded at the intersection of Fifth and Vine streets. What happened next was a "hit and run," McCarron said -- a tactic used to lure police to one location as the crowd suddenly moves to another. This causes the police to have to reconstruct their lines.

Unified by chants of "Whose streets? Our streets!" the group headed to Fourth Street from Fountain Square in search of the TABD home base -- the Omni Netherland Plaza Hotel. For the next 40 minutes, members of the black bloc knocked over police roadblocks. That was the most "violent" the protesters got. After traveling two blocks west on Fourth Street, the march ended as police surrounded them at Elm Street.

People tried to disperse, but couldn't. Arrests were made. McCarron was pushed by an officer as he filmed two arrests. His tape shows an officer hitting a protester with a billy club after the protestor was on the ground being restrained by another officer.

A second protester lay on the ground, with two officers on top of him; he was screaming that the officers were hurting him.

On orders from Demasi, officers detained the crowd. Most protesters wanted to disperse.

"You've got a bunch of people standing on the sidewalk trying to disperse, because if they didn't want to disperse, they would follow the march," said one protester. "The cops have surrounded the sidewalk and forced people against the buildings, but they're saying, 'We're trying to make people disperse.' How the hell do you make people disperse when you're surrounding them? You got cops on this side saying, 'If you want to disperse, go that way.' You got cops over there saying, 'If you want to disperse, go that way.'

"There seems to be no one in charge, so we're all just going to stand here in the cold. The other thing is that no lieutenants will respond to our requests to have information about what is happening. That is completely undemocratic and a police state."

McCarron asked an officer if police were worried about people joining in another protest.

"I'm not worried about anything right now," the officer said. "I'm just standing here."

After a few minutes, the crowd was allowed to disperse. As they did, bystanders cheered for them.

Meanwhile, a smaller group of protesters had continued south on Elm Street. Once there, officers used canisters of mace to subdue them, according to Lt. Ray Ruberg, spokesman for the police division.

McCarron deemed the hit-and-run a success. The black bloc caused enough civil resistance, as he put it, to show police intimidation wasn't working.

Anarchy With a Human Face

McCarron came to Cincinnati with one purpose -- to address issues raised by the TABD. By trade, he is a graphic designer for a dot.com company in San Francisco. By avocation, he is an activist and an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

McCarron is also a Sufi, an anarcho-syndicalist and a member of the black bloc. He is as clear in his vision as he is complex in his beliefs. At age 21, he received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy. As a "conscientious objector," he didn't agree with the Bush administration's use of force in Kuwait during the Gulf War. That was July 1990. A month later, protesting at Kent State University against the war, he became an activist -- one who used to have top-secret security clearance working on missions with the Navy SEALS.

As a Sufi, a sect of Islam, McCarron has a value system based on a universal approach. He believes in universal labor and human rights. As an anarcho-syndicalist, he believes government should use a consensus model for decisions, not a top-down administration with a president or committee holding executive power.

As a member of a black bloc, McCarron risks arrest to protect less militant protesters' right of free expression.

"The (black bloc) tactic is a more militant form of civil disobedience which engages the police in direct action," he said. "The bloc engages the police to resist the illegal use of force against demonstrators who are otherwise peaceful. More or less, it's a bloc of people willing to risk arrest while engaged in a more militant standing."

McCarron does not match the radical stereotype. Radicals aren't supposed to be soft-spoken and have friendly faces. Nor are they supposed to have names like Salim, which he says, means "someone full of peace" or "one who removes conflicts."

This movement needs to be militant, McCarron says, because change is not going to come by writing your congressmen. "There's never been an instance where any great forward movement has been staged through a letter-writing campaign," he said. "It's always been staged through people taking to the streets. We have an eight-hour workday now because workers long ago, especially IWW workers, took to the streets and used militant tactics. This is just a continuation of that militancy.

"The whole role of militancy is to wake people up. The knee-jerk reaction to anything that is militant is to say it's wrong. But then, people start to think about what is being said behind the militancy. Once they figure out what the facts and the evidence are and that their quality of life, their sovereignty is going to be affected within their own country by trade deals, then they see why people would become militant about these things."

Conditions in a sweatshop are so far removed from most Americans' life that they cannot grasp the importance of universal human rights, McCarron said. But imagine if the eight-hour workday or guaranteed minimum wage were abolished in this country. "Then people would understand why we are militant," he said.

No Light At the End of the Tunnel

About 100 feet from the street entrance to Union Terminal, Food Not Bombs, a direct action group that serves food as a form of protest, served protesters a vegetarian dinner the evening of Nov. 17. At Union Terminal's entrance, a labor rally was underway; TABD delegates ate dinner inside.

"Brick by brick, wall by wall, corporate power has got to fall," went the chant. Picketers were organized and peaceful. The show of police force earlier in the day didn't seem to deter anyone.

The police were on hand again, in riot gear again. Officers formed a human chain snaking around Union Terminal's perimeter. The parking lot was barricaded, opening up only to allow certain vehicles -- official transportation and those carrying TABD members. A fire truck was also on hand.

The demonstration included the regulars -- street medics, legal observers, the "cheerleaders" from Antioch College in Yellow Springs. ("1, 2, 3, 4! The U.S. is a corporate whore!")

Rumor had it four protesters were arrested earlier in the day. Six to seven people hadn't been accounted for by their affinity groups. But spirits were high.

Ruberg, the police spokesman, answered reporters but ignored protesters' questions.

"We're expecting an orderly protest, as what's going on right now," he said. "The only reason we're here now is because of what happened earlier. We laid out the ground rules to various groups who were going to protest, and it was come to agreement as to what would be tolerated and what wouldn't. There was deviation on that. Not to say that that's the groups we met with."

Ruberg would not comment on the number of officers present, except to say the force was "sufficient" and they would be there as long as the protest continued.

Twenty minutes later, a protester was overheard telling other protesters, "If you want to leave safely, the time to go is now."

McCarron noticed the officers getting antsy, and then learned an action was being planned on Dalton Street. Dalton runs north and south directly under Union Terminal's parking lot, which encases the street in a block-long tunnel.

Protesters were planning to either block the tunnel or just maintain a presence. The crowd began to move north and then west on Kenner Street, toward Dalton. Police in riot gear were waiting on both ends of the tunnel. As the protesters neared the tunnel, the police formed a line. Next, they forced the protesters into the tunnel and refused to allow anyone to leave.

As protesters began to sit down, one officer began to talk about compromising.

"We won't do anything as long as you don't do anything," he said "We've had officers assaulted today."

"But what about what happened last week?" a protester asked, referring to the deaths of two African-American males while in Cincinnati police custody. One was shot after wrestling an officer's gun away from him. The other, Roger Owensby, died from what Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Carl Parrott Jr. described to city council as "a choke hold gone bad or from too many people piling on top of him."

The situation at the tunnel tensed with each moment. Protesters wanted to know how they were breaking the law at this point. They were peaceful. They were staying on the sidewalk. They feared the police "compromise" would involve mace and arrests.

While officers stood with their mace cans ready, McCarron passed his video camera to someone else and put on his black bandana. He was now taking part in the black bloc. Protesters sat down holding up peace signs. Some played kazoos.

"Line formation. Forward march," ordered a commanding officer on the right side of the tunnel. The same order had been given to the line of officers on the other side. They were closing in.

The media were not allowed to follow the line. No one knew what was going to happen.

Five minutes later it was over. No one got hurt or arrested. Police herded the protesters back out of the tunnel.

As officers followed the protesters to the front of Union Terminal, they pushed protesters and journalists out of their way.

"They just pushed me out of the way," said one protester. "If I even touch a cop, I get arrested for assault."

"Tomorrow's going to be really messy," McCarron predicted. "(The police) will be really cold and grumpy, and there'll be a lot more people to deal with."

The Fourth Amendment Stops at Fountain Square

McCarron's prediction proved true. Coalition for a Humane Economy (CHE) had a permit for a legal rally on Fountain Square at noon Nov. 18. But by 11 a.m. police had the square surrounded with barricades. Officers insisted on searching anyone who wanted go in.

"It's just an intimidation tactic," McCarron said. "If they do this, it will just force people to become more radical, which increases the tension level, which causes more people to get hurt."

Officers blocking Fountain Square's entrance said the search was justified because a couple of windows had been broken and graffiti was marked.

"It's constitutional because of what happened yesterday," said Officer John Neal. "It warrants us to search for sling shots and spray paint. It will hold up in court."

That's a flimsy basis for a search, McCarron said.

"They're using some broken windows, which happens every day in every major American city, to clamp down on protest," he said. "Basically, you can search everybody in town if anything goes wrong anywhere if there's a criminal investigation."

If the police wanted to keep the rally small, they succeeded. Within an hour, Food Not Bombs packed up the food. CHE had a demonstration permit for a second rally at the Kroger Building, according to Ruberg. But getting the five blocks from one legal rally to the next posed a problem, he said.

"But they don't have no parade permit," he said. "That's going to cause us some commotion. Hopefully they'll do that in an orderly manner on the sidewalks."

Protesters marched north on the sidewalk along Vine Street. Police followed in the street: police in cars, police in a bus, police on motorcycles, police on horses, police on foot and police in a helicopter.

McCarron noticed the black bloc was virtually non-existent. That meant nothing radical was going to happen, he said.

Once the march hit Court Street in front of the Kroger Building, the protesters moved west. Police blockaded them on both sides of the block and formed a line down the middle of Court Street.

Initially no one could leave.

"We don't want to be part of the demonstration!" pleaded a male protester who had brought his young children. "We have children here. We'd like to leave!"

Some protesters began to chant, "Let them go!"

After a few minutes, police permitted people to leave in groups of two or four. This happened after the man with the children flagged down a TV news camera to document the situation.

Some protesters sat peacefully. Others chanted, "Police disperse, two at a time."

After approximately 30 minutes, the police allowed the group of approximately 400 to march. The police led the group on the sidewalk. The march moved south on Vine Street, passing the Omni Hotel and stopping in front of the Chiquita Center, 250 E. Fifth St. After setting a papier-mache pig on a marble wall in front of Chiquita, CHE spokesman Steve Schumacher perched atop another man's shoulders to address the group.

"All right, we got this far," Schumacher said. "Now this is not Berlin in 1939. It is Cincinnati, the year 2000. This amount of police response is totally, totally outrageous. We have told everybody, including Capt. Demasi of District 1, that we are peaceful demonstrators. We have been peaceful demonstrators.

"Now, this is Chiquita. This is Carl Lindner's company, who is destroying the banana economies in small islands all over the Caribbean and in Central America. Now, Chiquita gets this pig. We have three more -- the Milner Hotel, City Hall and P&G. We will make sure that they get delivered.

"Our agreement with the police is that we disperse here. I ask you to please honor that. We have always said that we are going to do exactly what they told us from the beginning. So we ask you all to peacefully disperse, to tell every officer that you see as you peacefully move out, that we are peacefully dispersing.

"This does not end the actions against the TABD. The World Bank and IMF meet in Washington, D.C., and we will be there in October. There'll be plenty of time to get ready.

"I ask you to disperse from here. This is the end of CHE activities for this day. Thank you all for being here and being peaceful."

'You have been warned'

The protesters dispersed peacefully from the Chiquita Center. But an impromptu rally against police brutality took form at Lytle Park at 4 p.m. Demonstrators decided to march to the Hamilton County Justice Center.

Police presence was almost non-existent on the way to Lytle Park. There were no officers on corners, no streets blocked with riot cops, no SWAT team in evidence.

Approximately 150 protesters gathered at the park. Black-bloc participation was more evident than earlier in the day.

The event began with two African-American men, Robert Pace and Dwight Patton, telling the crowd about events that led to the death of Michael Carpenter, who died of gunshot wounds after a confrontation with Cincinnati Police.

Carrying a coffin emblazoned with the American flag and a poster with a post-mortem picture of Carpenter, the men led the sidewalk parade behind protesters carrying a banner. The banner read, "Do Not Beat Me."

The march was peaceful. Protesters remained on the sidewalk. They held signs. They chanted. A few officers on motorcycles even blocked intersections so the group could cross the street together.

The march reached the Justice Center still peacefully and on the sidewalk. It proceeded to march around the center's perimeter, peacefully. As it headed south on Broadway Street and west on Eighth Street, police blockaded the group between Broadway and Sycamore streets.

The march stopped. The protesters stood. Then a Queen City Metro bus unleashed 40 officers in riot gear headed by Demasi.

"Build in," a commanding officer ordered. The cock of a rifle was audible.

Officers formed a line. Protesters stood on the sidewalk and began chanting, "No justice, no peace!"

Police informed the protesters they were assembling illegally and would not be able to leave as a group.

"You are being advised. This is an unlawful assembly," said a commanding officer. "If you want to disband and leave, you may do so. Anyone who stays is subject to arrest. You have been warned."

A line of about a dozen officers headed toward the group.

"Which way are we supposed to go?" a protester yelled.

Twelve seconds later, police set upon them, spraying mace and making arrests. Once the line of police officers was upon the group, it split. Half the group began dispersing east on Eighth Street, half began dispersing west. Those caught in the officers' direct line were maced at close range.

A representative of the IWW was grabbed, maced and arrested. He had been taunting the officers earlier in the day. Four officers subdued him, one putting his knee in the man's neck as he lay on the ground. Officers grabbed a female protester from behind, macing her and taking her to the ground to arrest her.

McCarron's video footage captured it all: the arrests, the sounds of close range mace-spraying, the peaceful dispersal.

The entire exchange lasted less than five minutes. Police then allowed the group to leave in foursomes, sending each in separate directions.

The Movement Marches On

"The system is responding to the protests in interesting but subtle ways," McCarron said. "There is an effect, but it's similar to going on strike. To get a good contract, you have to take militant labor tactics. Protests are a form of strike to get a better contract for the people."

Although the protests did not attract the estimated 1,000 to 3,000 people, it did send a message, he said. Sizable protests occur on an almost weekly basis in San Francisco. Any protest that disrupts a mid-size Midwestern city like Cincinnati accomplishes something.

"It shows the leaders that the level of commitment is not isolated to Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or Boston," McCarron said. "There is a broad-based resistance to policies being enacted that do not answer to the people. Having 500-600 people is a statement of itself. It's a statement that even during the middle of the week when people have jobs, they're going to take time out and stand against something that's wrong in our society.

"It's quality, not quantity. The quality of the protests (these past few days) exhibited a deep commitment that people aren't just going to run away and that people aren't just going to give up. I think this is going to get bigger. It's going to keep going."