There's a Police Riot Goin' On
Anti-war marchers feel the chill in Connecticut
by Hank Hoffman
In These Times magazine, December 2001
It was bad enough that police arrested 18 anti-war demonstrators
during an unpermitted march on October 25 to the downtown office
of hawkish U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Cops beat and peppersprayed
a 61-year-old asthmatic man, cracking two of his ribs. Four or
five other demonstrators were hit with pepper spray, and two marchers
were thwacked with batons. Police drove their cars diagonally
into the crowd to force it off the rush hour streets and onto
And bicycle cops rammed their bike tires into the backs of
marchers' legs, according to Chris Harris, a reporter with the
Hartford Advocate. Harris called the reaction a "police riot."
But worse were the severe charges and high bonds slapped on
several of the those arrested. More than a half-dozen activists
were charged with felonies- specifically "inciting to riot"
and "inciting injury to persons"-that carry potential
five-to-20-year jail terms, even though eyewitnesses say the crowd
was nonviolent and no property was damaged. Five of the "Hartford
18," as they are being called, had to post bonds of $35,000
to $50,000. All were held over-night. More than $10,000 had to
be paid to a bail bondsman, money that is unrecoverable even after
the defendants make their court appearances.
Coming on the same day that the Senate voted 98 to 1 to grant
law enforcement agencies broad new powers to fight terrorism,
the severity of the Hartford judicial and police response fanned
fears that dissent will not be tolerated. Since September 11,
there have been demonstrations in the thousands in New York City,
Washington and Berkeley, and rallies and vigils have been organized
on more than 150 college campuses. But the reaction to the Hartford
demo-which, unlike most other actions, was an unpermitted street
march-is the harshest to date.
Hartford civil rights attorney Leon Rosenblatt, who has provided
legal counsel for some of those arrested and attended the demonstration,
says the charges are "wild exaggerations." In the case
of Adam Hurter, who was charged with "inciting injury to
a person or property" after facilitating a sidewalk meeting
after the arrests, eyewitness Rosenblatt says the charge is a
"complete fiction and fabrication."
"It was quite obviously an attempt to stifle the peace
movement," says Wesleyan University student Sarah Norr. Norr
was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and interfering
with an officer after she cited her constitutional right to free
assembly when told by a police officer to clear off the sidewalk.
"It was very clear from what the cops were saying as they
arrested us that they were angry at us for our beliefs,"
Norman Pattis, a New Haven civil liberties attorney representing
some of the defendants, described the atmosphere during the bail
hearings in court the next day as "scary." "The
non-political defendants were muttering that (the protesters)
ought to be given 'life,"' he said. "The prosecutors
were in high dudgeon, and the bail commissioner said 'these dangerous
times' justified the bonds."
Were police actions politically motivated? Police spokesman
Lt. Neil Dryfe says "absolutely not." Dryfe says the
felony charges were justified, stating there was "violent
resistance to being arrested" and defends the bonds, saying,
"Bonds of this size for this amount, for people charged in
some cases with felonies who do not live locally, is not uncommon."
(When I relate this to Pattis, he says, "That's bullshit.")
"There was no violent resistance," Norr says. "The
police are trumping up the charges and trying to make it look
like a riot in order to justify their actions."
Trials are scheduled for the end of November, and defendants
are still assembling their legal team and developing strategy.
As one says, "Nobody made a violent act of any sort, and
we're all equally innocent." Their foremost legal priority
is that no protester serve any time in jail.
"As we continue to question what's going on," says
Jessie Duvall, another Wesleyan student, "we have to be aware
of a probable harsher reaction from both the police and the government."
Hank Hoffman is a contributing writer for the New Haven Advocate.