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by campus progressive
Monday, Nov. 11, 2002 at 2:09 AM
This is happening every single friday night infront of the western union bank on 2nd street in the long beach at aprox 6:30pm to 9pm.
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Toot of anti-war support gets a ticket
By Tom Hennessy
Seven weeks after it began, the Friday night protest against the possible U.S. invasion of Iraq has become a Belmont Shore fixture.
But not one that is universally admired.
In fact, the demonstration, which starts about 6:30 p.m. and usually lasts beyond two hours, is prompting passers-by to express opinions about the planned military action. Honking horns reflect solidarity with the protesters, usually 100 or more. Shouts and raised fingers, as you might guess, indicate the opposite.
One of those in agreement with the protesters is Kit Williams. "I oppose going to war with Iraq, and have joined (the protesters) on one occa sion,' she says.
Last Friday night, however, Williams had no time to join the protest. So, as she drove past, she expressed her sentiment by honking her horn.
"Just before I reached Bay Shore,' she says, "I noticed the flashing lights in my rear view mirror.' She pulled into a parking lot and was approached by a police officer.
"I asked him what I had done, and he told me I'd been a little heavy- handed on my horn.' (Abusive use of a car horn is a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code.)
"I was defensive but calm and asked him who had authorized the police involvement in this regard. 'The Belmont Shore Business Association' was his reply.''
Williams, who says she told the officer she was honking her horn in support of the protesters, was given a ticket.
"I was not conservative in my honking,' she admits. "I probably hit the horn five or six times. I had protested with the group a few weeks before, so I knew how encouraging the honks of support could be as encouraging as it was infuriating when the people who didn't agree yelled profanities and flipped us off while driving past.'
How did the officer respond to her explanation? "He was very understanding,' says Williams, the daughter of former school board member Harriet Williams, "and he said something to the effect that he didn't like ticketing people for this reason.'
Sgt. Paul LeBaron, a police department spokesman, confirmed the BSBA had complained, but says it was not the only source of complaints. "We are responding to complaints we heard from (the Association) and others.' The latter, he says, include individual business owners, restaurant owners, motorists and pedestrians. Right to honk
Williams and organizers of the Friday demonstrations say lawyers have advised them that the horn-honking is a First Amendment right. But they also say they have stopped carrying "Honk for Peace' signs after being asked to do so by police.
Jennifer Davis, executive director of the BSBA, says the horn- honking is just one problem arising from the demonstrations. "Every weekend is just getting a little excessive. There's more and more people coming. ...
"It's coming down to a safety issue. We're very concerned that somebody is going to get hurt with all the cars coming here and people carrying signs. You have people driving on the street and looking at the signs and not paying attention to the road. We're all for peace, but if somebody gets hurt by a car, that's not very peaceful.'
She says the demonstrations are also having an adverse effect on business. "You don't want to go into a store and try on an outfit with all that going on.' Crowded Shore
Noting that Belmont Shore has significant vehicle, pedestrian and even motorcycle traffic, especially on Friday nights, LeBaron says, "With all that culminating, we have gotten a number of complaints down there. We're averaging five to seven phone calls a week just on the horn-honking.'
Six tickets have been issued for excessive horn-honking in the seven weeks of demonstrations, notes LeBaron, who says the police have adopted a sort of two-toot policy. "Those who drive by doing a honk-honk, we're not concerned about them. We're concerned with people who are leaning on the horn for a block or more.'
For the police, the demonstrations represent something of a juggling act, trying to resolve complaints while, as LeBaron says, "making sure the people can do their protest.'
He notes that protesters and those blowing horns in solidarity have been mostly cooperative with the police. "We pulled one motorist over (for excessive horn-blowing), gave him a warning, and told him he was free to join the protesters. The next week, he parked his car and joined the protest.'
As for those complaining about the demonstrations, there appears to be no relief in sight. "We're here until the situation (invading Iraq) is clarified,' says Eugene Ruyle, one of the protest group's three co-chairs.
Ruyle and co-chair Sharon Cotrell say the Friday protests have grown beyond their expectations. 'We kind of decided to do this on the spur of the moment,' says Ruyle. "People just started showing up.'
Says Cotrell, "Last week, we even had a cello quartet from Poly High School.' The Friday protests, she notes, have become a magnet for people opposed to the invasion of Iraq and that they are finding strength in numbers. "People are saying to me, 'I don't feel so lonely now.''
Nor is Belmont Shore the only focal point, she adds. "These vigils are springing up all over.'
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