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Anti-war protestors excluded from president’s visit

by Amy Kingsley

Police blocked a group of about 75 protesters from entering the tony Irving Park neighborhood on Oct. 18 when the activists tried to confront President Bush with anti-war placards, chanted slogans and samba drums.

The anti-Bush demonstrators who gathered at the corner of North Elm Street and Sunset Drive wanted to let the president know that not all residents welcomed his visit. Earlier in the day, a group organized by the World Can’t Wait protested across the street from Falkener Elementary. The motorcade passed in front of the afternoon group, but bypassed the larger Irving Park gathering later that evening.

Police thwarted the protesters’ attempt to bring the rally to the swanky dinner, a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Republican congressional candidates. After two hours spent divided between the intersection’s four corners, the activists massed into a single group and tried to march down the neighborhood’s sidewalks. Greensboro police blocked the demonstration and explained that the area beyond the stone markers was secured for the president’s safety. That explanation was not good enough for Lewis Pitts, a Legal Aid attorney who turned the officers’ attention to the families and neighborhood residents who had been freely passing in and out of the secure area.

“The point is that they can’t tell us the fiction that this is a secure zone for the president,” Pitts said.

One of the protesters was also an Irving Park resident, but police refused to allow him back into the neighborhood, even as his neighbors moved about unencumbered by legal restrictions. The disparate treatment of protesters and other community members contradicts Secret Service procedure.

“In the absence of specific fact or observable actions which would indicate a demonstration may pose a risk to a United States Secret Service protectee, protected facility, foreign mission or to public safety, demonstrators are to be treated as members of the general public,” the manual states. “USSS personnel should not initiate any action to segregate demonstration activity from public areas.”

As the confrontation between police and protesters escalated, reinforcements arrived with flashing blue lights and completely shut down the neighborhood entrance. This satisfied the protesters’ request for equal treatment and they backed down.

The protesters shouted their disagreement with a number of Bush initiatives, from the war to No Child Left Behind and the Military Commissions Act. Many donned orange armbands that signaled their opposition to torture. Others were motivated by their disagreement with the Bush administration over the war in Iraq.

Joan Mills, a former schoolteacher, said she sharply disagreed with Bush over the war.

“I feel very strongly the need for peace,” Mills said. “And I’m very against the war in Iraq.”

Several of the protesters traveled from nearby cities; Libby Mitchell came from Raleigh to speak out against what she described as “a world going in a very wrong direction.”

Some of those who watched the protest did not agree with its participants.

“Just because they have the right to do it doesn’t mean they should do it,” said Joe Talluto, the property manager for nearby Country Club apartments.

Talluto said he thought such protests might harm the morale and safety of troops overseas, and said the group represented a small percentage of Americans. He also said he thought the country was safer under Bush’s leadership.

Rena Woodard, an Irving Park resident who was boxed in by the traffic and security ventured out to watch the protests. Although she voted for Bush and still supports him, she defended the protesters’ right to take to the streets.

“Only in America can people stand on the street and disagree with the president,” she said. “This shows that we are still proud to be a democratic nation.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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