Blog: Officers allowed intimidation. Captain calls claim surprising
CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR., Charlotte Observer, July 20, 2007
A blog written by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and posted on www.MichaelMoore.com criticizes Charlotte-Mecklenburg police for allowing counterprotesters to "try to intimidate us" during her anti-war rally Tuesday.
But in a memo to top police administrators, one captain said officers had no issues during the two-hour event at Bryant Park and expressed surprise at the complaints.
In her blog, Sheehan said that there was a "police presence that seemed to be there to foster violence."
She noted that the police, citing freedom of speech, refused to separate her group and its opponents, a national group called the Gathering of Eagles.
"But the Eagles' freedom of speech has included physical threats against me and actual physical force against kids and women. When the Charlotte police were told this, they said that they couldn't keep them apart from our group until the Eagles actually did something."
Sheehan, one of the best-known opponents of the war in Iraq, stayed in her car during the rally that drew about 125 people.
Instead of addressing the crowd -- some of her supporters said there was concern about her safety -- Sheehan moved to Talley's Green Grocery in Dilworth.
In a police memo dated July 19, Capt. Doug Gallant, who reviewed and evaluated the event in Bryant Park, said he was "quite frankly surprised there have been complaints."
The police memo says the 14 officers on hand noticed no displays that violated N.C. law. One protester began using profanity, the memo says, and an officer asked the person to stop cursing.
The memo also says that police didn't have to bring in physical barriers, such as bike racks, to keep the groups away from each other. At one point, Sheehan's security adviser said she had concerns about the Gathering of Eagles, and officers asked the group to move back, creating a buffer of at least 25 feet.
Most people who attended the event said they didn't feel threatened or intimidated. But Sheehan supporters fault police for allowing their message to be drowned out by counterprotesters.
"Early on, I was saying this is the beauty of our democracy, how these groups can be there at the same time and be civil," said Jibril Hough, a local anti-war activist. "But in the end, I was very disappointed."
An organizer for the counterprotesters said there was never any threat of violence.
"We are loud and we are proud and we will counterprotest and exercise our First Amendment rights at the top of our lungs," said George Samek, recruiter for the Gathering of Eagles.
Samek said he talked with leaders from the other side before the protests started.
"I said we were very verbal and not to expect any leniency, but I told them, `You have nothing to fear from us. We'll be screaming at you and calling you names ... but we had amputees with us, we had children with us, we didn't want any violence.' "
Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046 firstname.lastname@example.org