Hell No, They Won't Go

Protesters say pens are for sheep, not Bush critics

Under orders from police, the demonstrators keep walking.

Each step down the grassy strip along James S. McDonnell Boulevard takes them farther from the entrance to the Boeing plant where President George W. Bush is scheduled to speak to workers in 45 minutes. The protesters' chances of getting their anti-Bush views across to the president are nil. Bush, who is being driven directly from the tarmac to the plant, will never leave airport property. The protesters also aren't going to be handing out any fliers at intersections near the plant. The cops make sure of that.

"Keep moving," orders Berkeley police Lieutenant Art Jackson, urging the three dozen demonstrators toward the designated protest area. With rain threatening and the protest zone nowhere in sight, Jackson offers to give them a lift. "We've got a nice, big bus to take you there," he says. No one wants a ride, and so the procession continues under the watchful eyes of at least a half-dozen Berkeley officers, some of whom walk among the crowd while others creep along in three police cruisers.

Christine Mains, holding her daughter, was arrested last week by Berkeley police.
Jennifer Silverberg
Christine Mains, holding her daughter, was arrested last week by Berkeley police.

Jackson is polite but firm with protesters who ask why they can't set up a little closer to the plant. "Blocking traffic is illegal," he explains, although no one has entered a traffic lane. "The Constitution doesn't allow that. Let's walk while we talk."

"Our goal is to get our message to Bush and have him see us," one woman tells Jackson. "We can accomplish that goal if you all move to the designated area," Jackson replies. "Is there a lot of visibility at the area?" a man asks. "Yes," Jackson answers, a bit haltingly. "To whom?" the man asks. "All this is interpretation," the lieutenant replies. "Keep moving -- we can do this. You have to understand, safety is an issue on this road."

Even the cops realize the situation is ridiculous when the procession reaches the protest zone, about a half-mile from the plant. Consisting of two roped-off areas, each about the size of a boxing ring, the protest zone sits 60 feet from the road in a field near the end of a runway, providing an excellent view of the back end of a United Parcel Service cargo jet and little else. The road here is straight and the speed limit is 40 mph, ensuring that motorists will zip past with barely a glance at the demonstrators, if they see them at all. And so the police relent, allowing demonstrators to march alongside the road instead of confining them to the pens.

With her five-year-old daughter Andrea on her lap, Christine Mains of Spanish Lake sits next to the road, about a football field away from the other protesters and that much closer to the plant. It is a tiny act of defiance, tolerated by police, who take no action when she refuses an officer's request to join the other demonstrators. "I refused to move and I stood my ground and I sat right there and I told him if he wanted to move me, he would have to move me physically," Mains later recalls. "I'm standing on my convictions and my First Amendment rights. I had a right to be there. I was on public property."

Suddenly the protesters head back toward the plant. The police follow along, making no attempt to stop the marchers until they try crossing McDonnell Boulevard to reach the entrance to Boeing administrative offices. The cops stop them on a narrow concrete median in the middle of the street.

"You have one of two choices: Go back across the street or be arrested," Jackson says. Most turn around and head toward a nearby parking lot where the cops say they can stay. But Mains remains on the median.

"You're blocking a street," Jackson warns. "You're also endangering the welfare of a child." Mains sits down, her arms around Andrea as a half-dozen officers move in. Patience on both sides has expired.

An officer snatches Andrea from her mother's arms and carries the child to a squad car. She's bawling, as is her mother. "No!" Mains screams. "She's five years old!" Mains goes limp as the cuffs go on, forcing officers to carry her to a patrol car while her daughter, tears streaming, is sped away. Mains will spend the next six hours in police custody. She goes home facing charges of failure to comply with a lawful order, resisting arrest, endangering the welfare of a child and peace disturbance. The cops, she says, originally tried citing her for blocking a street but changed the charge to peace disturbance because police had already closed the street in preparation for Bush's appearance.

The demonstration winds up within a half-hour, with a few protesters lingering to chat with Jackson and other officers. The atmosphere is cordial. When one protester says herding demonstrators into pens as if they were sheep is silly, Jackson doesn't disagree. He looks upward, smiles and then notes that police today didn't force the demonstrators to stay inside the roped-off areas.

"Of course, you can all understand this is for national security," Jackson explains. "We're protecting everybody."

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