Over 250 people crowded an intersection in Riverside, for over three hours as three law enforcement agencies dispatched dozens of officers at the scene of what was a boisterous but peaceful demonstration.
At 6 am, demonstrators from several organizations congregated at the intersection of University and Iowa, near UCR with signs, drums and banners. Songs were sung, and chants were sounded to an audience of mainly supportive commuters.
“1,2,34, We don’t want your racist war!” and “Exon Chevron, Unocal, Shell, take your war and go to hell” intermixed with songs, and candles held by the Women in Black who appeared after their nightly vigil at the Mission Inn hotel.
Dozens of CHP vehicles set up a command station across the street behind a Der Weiner Snitzel restaurant, accompanied by the Riverside Police Department’s entire traffic division of motorcycles and squad cars. So for about 20 minutes, police outnumbered protesters. That soon changed as the crowd grew.
As more people arrived to protest, marches began across the intersection and to different corners, and police officers were dispatched from the UCR police force including chief Hank Rosenfield. Captain Pete Curzon, in charge of the RPD field operations division also appeared to command his troops from the comfort of Starbucks.
When darkness fell, a spotlight dropped on the protesters courtesy of a circling CHP helicopter.
People commented that they had not seen such a CHP presense since the 2000 protest which commerated the shutdown of the 91 freeway during a prayer vigil for Tyisha Miller on Nov. 1, 1999. Perhaps in anticipation of some more freeway prayer, the CHP stationed officers and squad cars near the onramp to the 60/215 freeway at University Ave.
Soon, three counter-demonstrators appeared and began protesting on behalf of the soldiers. Even though the points of view conflicted, protesters on both sides maintained open dialogue and protested side by side.
Unfortunately, the police felt the pro-war demonstrators were in grave danger from the peaceful anti-war demonstrators, creating conflict when there was none by moving in a half-dozen traffic officers led by Sgt. Don Tauli to separate the two groups. One officer, Hale, repeatedly said how nervous he felt by seeing how close the two groups were together even as they talked and shook hands.
Two white men, with walkie-talkies and a video camera like they were part of a militia soon began generating false rumors by telling police officers that several anti-war demonstrators were armed. As a result, Sgt. Tauli and Officer Freese pulled a young man and began searching him, even the rips in his jeans, alas for them, all that they found was a knee brace.
Demonstrators plan to congregate tomorrow, March 21 at 5 pm at the intersection of Central and Magnolia.