Police Open Fire At Anti-War Protest, Longshoremen Injured
Monday 7 April 2003
(04-07) 12:52 PDT OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) --
Police opened fire Monday morning with wooden dowels, "sting balls" and other non-lethal weapons at anti-war protesters outside the Port of Oakland, injuring at least a dozen demonstrators and six longshoremen standing nearby.
Most of the 500 demonstrators at the port were dispersed peacefully, but police opened fire at two gates when protesters refused to move. The longshoremen, pinned against a fence, were caught in the crossfire.
The port protest was one of several anti-war demonstrations Monday in the San Francisco Bay area. Twelve people were arrested at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, and seven were arrested after temporarily blocking an off-ramp from Interstate 280 in San Francisco.
The Rev. Lee Williamson of Hayward knelt quietly in prayer at the foot of one officer at the naval weapons station.
"I think it's necessary to come to places that continue to fuel death and destruction," Williamson said. "I think the whole thing is immoral from the get-go."
About 50 medical students, doctors and teachers demonstrated for two hours in front of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office in San Francisco. In Sunnyvale, demonstrators planned to present a letter to Lockheed Martin opposing the use of that company's products in the war.
And in Sacramento, nine anti-war protesters were arrested when they blocked the entrance to the federal building.
About 200 of the port demonstrators later marched to the federal building in Oakland, blocking a street and chanting: "Out of the office and into the streets! U.S. out of the Middle East!" They were joined by Oakland City Council members Jane Bruner and Jean Quan.
"They should not have been using the wooden bullets," Bruner said. "Given what's happening in the world today, we're going to be seeing more of this. And we should be prepared to handle it."
Demonstrators said it was the first time they had been fired upon since anti-war protests started in the San Francisco Bay area more than two weeks ago.
Liz Highleyman, a San Francisco writer who has been at many of the major protests across the country in recent years, said the police response reminded her of the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle four years ago.
"This is a level of injury as high as I've seen anywhere since Seattle in 1999," she said.
Protesters said they targeted the Port of Oakland because at least one of the companies there, APL, is handling war supplies.
APL spokesman Jerry Drelling declined to discuss the shipping company's military contracts. But he confirmed that APL participates in the U.S Department of Transportation's Maritime Security Program that pays commercial shipping lines for the right to take over their vessels during war.
Oakland police said at least 24 people were arrested at the port.
"Some people were blocking port property and the port authorities asked us to move them off," said Deputy Police Chief Patrick Haw. "Police moved aggressively against crowds because some people threw rocks and big iron bolts at officers."
Police spokeswoman Danielle Ashford said officers fired bean-bag rounds and wooden dowels. They also used sting balls, which send out a spray of BB-sized rubber pellets and a cloud of tear gas.
"When they hit you, it feels like a bee sting," Haw said.
Six longshoremen were treated by paramedics, as were at least a dozen protesters -- some of whom had bloody welts the size of a silver dollar.
"I was standing as far back as I could," said longshoremen Kevin Wilson. "It was very scary. All of that force wasn't necessary."
Steve Stallone, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said most of the dockworkers went back to work after the protesters left. A few were too shaken up to return.
He said a union arbitrator was evaluating the situation, trying to determine whether the longshoremen should cross the protesters' picket line and go to work, when police started firing.
"They didn't care," he said. "They just attacked the picket line. They declared it an illegal assembly and gave people two minutes to disperse. The police did not move to arrest anyone, they just started shooting."
The San Francisco Bay area has been the site of some of the biggest and most boisterous anti-war protests in the country. In the first few days after the war began, there were more than 2,000 arrests when demonstrators blocked downtown streets and tried to seize control of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
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