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by Mary Shelton
Saturday, Apr. 05, 2003 at 9:45 AM
In what can be called an unfortunate lack of insight, Riverside Police Department police chief expresses his belief that the peaceful anti-war demonstrators are 'anarchists' as his agency begins to place protest leaders under surveillance
Riverside Police Department Chief Russ Leach, with paintbrush in hand, has chosen to label the anti-war demonstrators as anarchists, at a meeting with his citizen advisory board last week. He added that the department was on the alert for anarchist groups that might be at the demonstrations.
This relevation has disturbed some local activists who are not certain that Leach even knows anything about true anarchrists. The anti-war movement in Riverside thus far has been comprised of people of all races, ages and backgrounds. A fact which should be obvious to the Riverside Police Department given their noticable presense at all the demonstrations.
Activists have also noticed that the department has stepped up surveillance of several leaders of the anti-war movement, dispatching detectives from its Special Investigations unit to follow them around, completely oblivious to the reality that young women do not feel comfortable when they are tailed by men they do not know. Peaceful demonstrators have been searched bodily for weapons, even though the most lethal equipment discovered was a knee brace.
However, the only act of violence perpetuated was that of a counter-demonstrator against an anti-war activist, on March 21 as police officers including a riot team stood idly by, shrugging their shoulders until the damage had been done. Then officers moved in to arrest the victim, allowing one assailant and nearly allowing the other, to get away.
The police department has not aimed any of its attention at the so-calle counter demonstrators who follow anti-war activists from demonstration to demonstration, their sole purpose to try to harass and even physically assault peaceful anti-war demonstrators. After all, Riverside is a large city with plenty of other intersections to protest at. Rather than videotape these protesters, detectives and other officers simply walk over to their street corner to get a better vantage point for filming anti-war demonstrators.
This behavior is reminiscent of the police department's surveillance of protesters during the marchs to protest the officer-involved shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998. That shooting resulted in investigations of patterns and practices of racism in the department by the federal and state attorney general offices. In 2001, the department entered into a consent decree with State Attorney General Bill Lockyer and agreed to implement wide-sweeping reforms.
Yet the department has learned little from its tragic past which bears even less hope that it is truly set on improving the way it conducts business.
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