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A Times Editorial

Police overreact to convention protests

There is a story that didn't get much attention amid the drama of the Democratic National Convention, and it has nothing to do with the Clintons' reconciliation with the Obamas. It is about the protesters outside the Pepsi Center doors and how they were treated by police. The Republicans are likely to write their own version of this story at their national convention this week.

To their credit, the Denver police showed restraint in managing some peaceful large-scale protests, including an antiwar march on Wednesday in which officers in a golf cart led an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 protesters behind a flashing sign that said, "Welcome to Denver. Follow us."

But that's not the whole story. Earlier in the week, officers in full riot gear, wielding batons, rounded up protesters with the use of pepper spray, taking more than 100 into custody. Police claim the crowd of 300 blocked traffic and rushed a police line. But a number of protesters interviewed said that they themselves were doing nothing provocative and had a permit to gather. Even if some protesters were blocking traffic, they could have been moved along or arrested without a military-like overreaction and indiscriminate arrests.

Another exchange between police and protesters that was caught on video seems to capture excessive police action. In the video, a member of the antiwar group CodePink: Women for Peace is seen being knocked to the ground by a police officer using his baton and screaming "Back up, bitch." She is then arrested.

Some other disturbing episodes:

Denver police went to a house that had been rented by the protest group Unconventional Denver as a convergence center, and despite seeing no illegal activity, two protesters were arrested, with one reportedly slammed on his head during the arrest.

An ABC News producer was arrested when he and his camera crew were outside the Brown Palace Hotel, on a sidewalk, trying to get pictures of corporate lobbyists and other big donors and Democratic senators coming out of a private gathering.

If protests sometimes get a little messy, with lots of people being boisterous and a few misbehaving, that's the price we pay for free speech.

The Democratic Party claims to be the party that upholds the First Amendment, yet it allows tight controls on protesters outside its conventions, as do Republicans. It is a shame that no Democratic leader has publicly raised questions about the mass arrests on Monday, in which dozens of protesters later had the baseless charges against them dismissed.

As China's repressions reminded us during the Olympics, free speech is more valuable than running a tight ship. Much more.

Police overreact to convention protests 08/31/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 5, 2008 3:45pm]
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