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What happened in Eugene

Brian curses those with easy Web access, so here's the report of the events at Eugene without, unfortunately, the photo's.

June 19, 1999

Parade escalates into rampage

The Register-Guard

An angry parade of anarchists and other activists broke store windows, threatened motorists, beat on cars and threw rocks at Eugene police Friday in a five-hour march downtown that began as a colourful but relatively tame protest against capitalism.

A Eugene police officer warns an angry anarchist during a confrontation on Seventh Avenue on Friday afternoon in downtown Eugene.

Anarchists harass a woman during a march, resulting in broken windows at businesses and graffiti scrawled throughout downtown.

Eugene police stand along Washington Street amid clouds of tear gas they lobbed to try to disperse an angry mob of anarchists after a protest turned violent in Eugene on Friday.

Protesters try to assist a victim overcome by tear gas in Washington-Jefferson Park.

Eugene police pin a protester to the hood of a car on Seventh Avenue while another officer warns the mob away with the threat of tear gas.

A protester hurls a rock, striking a police officer during a violent confrontation at Washington-Jefferson Park.

A group of anarchists burns an American flag on the downtown mall as the march began to turn violent Friday afternoon.

Photos: THOMAS BOYD and BRIAN DAVIES / The Register-Guard

Police, who initially directed traffic around activists and kept their distance, ultimately deployed tear gas and arrested 15 people for riot, a felony, and other charges.

Three officers suffered minor injures in the rioting, as did an unknown number of protesters.

For angry motorists and businesspeople, police didn't act fast enough.

For protesters, any movement by officers was reason to shriek and curse, and sometimes throw rocks.

"Practice non-violence," one woman screamed as officers with shields and batons formed a line across Fifth Avenue near the Oregon Electric Station.

"Please don't escalate this," a young man with a ponytail hollered at officers, who were standing still watching the crowd.

Police Chief Jim Hill said his officers were outnumbered, and in a no-win situation. "I'm not very happy with how this whole thing has turned out," he said as he stood in front of a patrol car pockmarked with strikes from rocks and bottles.

"More decisive action would have been roundly criticised," he said. "We might have been blamed for making things worse. We probably could have made hundreds of arrests but we didn't. Everytime we tried to make an action, people would confront us."

Protesters, as many as 200 of them marching back and forth to a drumbeat through a web of downtown streets and alleys, played a cat-and-mouse game with police for hours.

They stopped long enough at intersections to disrupt rush-hour traffic and anger drivers, but paraded away from officers when threatened with arrest and tear gas. Throughout it all, activists and police kept video cameras trained on each other.

Shortly before 6 p.m. on West Fifth Avenue under the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge, police made good on the threat to use tear gas, setting off multiple canisters.

Protesters ran from the gas but regrouped within minutes and marched into the Whiteaker neighbourhood, then headed south and east toward downtown.

They screamed profanities at police and verbally battered motorists, drawing some drivers - including several senior citizens - out of their cars to confront them. "Join the party, man," protesters shouted at one older driver.

One car blocked by a small group of protesters started to slowly turn from 11th Avenue onto Willamette Street and nudged one activist, prompting others to jump on the car, pounding and screaming.

The car sped away. Several activists jumped off and one fell. A papier-mache mask stuck to the roof.

At West Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street, a gray-haired man got out of his car and yanked the hood of a sweatshirt worn by an activist who was lying on the ground blocking the vehicle.

He was quickly surrounded by an angry mob that pounded on his car's rear window. He managed to get back in the car and drive off to a chorus of shouts and profanities. "Either stop or we'll beat the hell out of you," one marcher yelled.

Further east on Seventh, a young man got out of his car after marchers blocked and struck it. He chased a protester and struck him in the head with a wrench. Blood poured from the protester's scalp as friends rushed to help him.

"I blame the police for this," Levi Smith, 18, said as a Eugene ambulance crew prepared to take him to the hospital. "They take oaths they can't uphold themselves."

The man who hit Smith said later by phone that the marchers provoked him by blocking his mother's car, throwing things at it and yelling at him and others in the car - including his pregnant girlfriend.

"(Smith) threw something at my mom's car, that's why I centred him out," said the man, whose first name is Richard but asked not to be identified further for fear of retaliation.

"I admit I may have had some aggressions from work. But still, something like that ... I could care less if their cause was great, I just wanted to get home."

Richard said he jumped out of his car and chased Smith to the curb and struck him once on the head with a small wrench-type tool, then retreated back to his car before he could be attacked himself.

"Honestly, if the guy wants to prosecute me, I'll let him because I was defending my family," Richard said. "They call themselves anarchists but at the first sign of anything, they're yelling in my ear that I'm going to jail and they're going to call the cops."

The first sign of trouble Friday came about 90 minutes into the demonstration, when a protester climbed a U.S. Bank sign and put his fist through it.

At that point, Chief Hill said police officials were going to have to "rethink" their original plan.

Police started with a small group of officers - 10 or 12 - watching the protest from a distance.

The planned demonstration started at 2:15 p.m. when some 300 people gathered at West 10th Avenue and Olive Street and began marching east on 10th.

Their purpose was to "reclaim" a street, to be one of hundreds of crowds world-wide that were having "street parties" Friday to protest global capitalism, cars, industry and government.

Most of the protesters were young - dozens of them wore masks, shirts or bandannas over the faces. Some brought small children and babies, a few brought dogs. A few seniors joined the crowd, too.

An 87-year-old Eugene woman and her husband watched the group gather from a Lane Transit District bench.

"We certainly approve of what they're here for," Doris Traudt said, noting her opposition to corporations involved in bioengineering. "I think a lot of these young people are really frustrated because of what's happening in the world, and this is the only way they can protest it."

Still, Traudt and her husband, Merle, said they oppose violence - by protesters or police.

Activists wound their way through an alley to the mall's intersection with Willamette, where dozens of them stood in the street. Police helped a handful of stuck drivers turn around, then barricaded Willamette between Eighth Avenue and 10th.

In a mini-version of the Oregon Country Fair, activists in colourful masks and costumes - along with a half-dozen bare-chested women in silver body paint - belly danced, beat drums and scribbled anti-government, anti-industry slogans on the pavement and brickwork, such as "Obey, Consume, Die."

More militant activists burned an American flag and smashed and kicked an old TV set, a stereo, computer and other small appliances to bits.

Most banners and placards targeted capitalism and corporate greed, although 8-year-old Megan Wilson of Eugene fashioned her own statement on a piece of corrugated cardboard. "Life Not Death; Love Not Sadness," the girl's sign said.

"I want my daughter to be able to grow up in a free society, and the way it' s going it's not going to happen," said her mother, Delyla Wilson. "So I want to support things like this."

Watching from the sidelines, police Capt. Thad Buchanan said the event - though illegal because it blocked the street - was essentially what organizers had said it would be.

At that point, Buchanan said, trying to move the crowd wasn't a viable option. "There's not much we can do with this many people without causing a riot, and I'm not going to do that," he said.

Activist Carol Berg said she was pleased to see police let the protest go forward, and said it showed that Hill meant what he said when he was named chief earlier this year.

"Chief Hill said that 'We believe our job is to facilitate free speech', and this is an example of that," Berg said.

Berg, who pushed a broom borrowed from Taco Time to clean up debris from the appliance-smashing, said later that protest organizers believed the demonstration would be peaceful, and didn't anticipate the march that continued from the mall.

There were no speeches or prepared statements, but local activist Tim Ream eventually strode to the center of the action and called for everyone to listen. He reported that a similar "reclaim the streets" rally in England had closed the London Stock Exchange for the day.

A short time later, the protest got legs and began its long, serpentine route through and around the downtown area.

After the U.S. Bank sign was broken, a plate-glass window was smashed at the Brenner's Leather store a block away, and then random businesses - and cars of passers-by - were targeted along the remainder of the route.

Mark Watkin, a downtown businessman who stopped to talk to Hill across from U.S. Bank, said he wanted police to take immediate action.

"I'm outraged," Watkin said. "I don't think this should be tolerated. I don't think this is safe. I'm afraid these anarchists will now think they have the green light to go ahead and do whatever they please. If it calls for pepper spray, I'm all for it."

Eugene City Councilor David Kelly followed the rag-tag parade for a while, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

"It's summer in Eugene," he said, shrugging. "I'm worried that, like everything else, 95 percent of these people are cool and the other 5 percent are real trouble."

Neil Van Steenbergen, chairman of the city's Human Rights Commission, walked with the crowd. He said the turn of events made him "sad and angry."

"My understanding was this was going to be nonviolent and respectful, on both sides," he said. "It hasn't turned out that way."

For at least the first hour of the march, police tried to stay ahead of the haphazardly moving mass and directed traffic as the protesters passed.

Police first ordered paraders off the street at Seventh and Oak, threatening to use tear gas to disperse the crowd. The group then began a game of stopping in one place long enough to stimulate police to the verge of action, then moving a block or so to another stopping point.

The first conflict came when a group of anarchists with dark clothes wrapped around their faces entered the South Umpqua Bank branch on East 11th Avenue. About a half-dozen police burst through the doors to head off the protesters, then someone outside threw a pair of rocks through a window above the door.

Two or three other banks along the route drew protesters' attention, although a frustrated rock-thrower failed in three attempts to break a window at Pacific Continental Bank on West Seventh. The fist-size stones bounced off the glass, scattering people gathered on the sidewalk.

Police appeared set to break things up when marchers retreated onto the grass in the Washington-Jefferson park blocks. But as about 30 officers in riot gear advanced from the east, they fired several canisters of tear gas toward the crowd but a westerly wind blew the white clouds back over the line of gas-masked officers instead of into the crowd.

Police withdrew again, and appeared to change tactics as the crowd began to stretch out. Police cars pulled up quickly to marchers who had apparently been observed breaking laws earlier. Officers tackled or pepper-sprayed them, then handcuffed them and threw them into the cars and whisked them away.

On a couple of occasions, knots of officers waited behind buildings until particular marchers walked past on the sidewalk and then cuffed them and hustled them away.

At a Taco Bell on West Seventh, marchers sprayed anarchist graffiti on outside walls and one man went inside, talked to employees, then walked back outside and broke two front windows.

"He came in and told me, 'Meat means death and I'm going to break your windows' ", the 20-year-old Taco Bell employee said, still shaking his head over the incident.

The girlfriend of the man who hit the marcher with a wrench said she has associated with anarchists in the past and believes no one truly involved in the movement would behave as Friday's marchers did.

"They were just looking for an excuse to riot, and that disgusts me", said the woman, who wouldn't give her name. "All in the name of smashing the state."

Reporters Paul Neville and Scott Maben contributed to this report.

Copyright © 1999 The Register-Guard

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