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Peace marchers assaulted by "pro-war" protesters

By Dave Mazza
Should the peace movement be alarmed by the Aug. 1 violence? Are they prepared should it occur again?

Portland’s peace movement entered new territory on Aug. 1. Peace protests earlier this summer and spring have been marred by police violence. But for the first time since Nov. 1, 2001, when the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition started organizing regular demonstrations downtown, participants in a coalition march encountered violence from reportedly “pro-war” demonstrators. The clash left one peace protester battered, another with a small knife wound, and a movement wondering whether this outburst was spontaneous or organized.

People gathering on Aug. 1 in Pioneer Courthouse Square for the 5:00 p.m. march were probably expecting some mild heckling. Two hecklers with signs celebrating U.S. military action in Iraq are regulars at the peace marches. They are viewed as irritating but harmless by most marchers. But that changed at the June 24 evening march where a heckler upped the ante with more disruptive behavior.

“Typical heckling at these marches is very, very, low level,” states Will Seaman, an organizer with the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition. “This time...the guy was pushing his way into the crowd and disrupting the introductory remarks.”

When the marchers left the square the heckler remained behind and was gone when the 50 or so marchers returned to the square. Seaman hoped at the time that it was an “aberration and not an escalation.” Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case.

When Gabriel Rivera arrived at the Aug. 1 march, he picked up two signs portraying 20 soldiers killed in Iraq. He was immediately confronted by a man wearing a “yahoo” t-shirt, who asks Rivera why he is “using them like that?” Told by Rivera that the troops should be home and not dying in Iraq, the man pulled out dog tags and informed the protester that “he was a soldier and didn’t like being used like that.” Rather than encourage the man, Rivera and those nearby chose to move off with the rest of the protesters now marching out of the square. Rivera noted, however, that the “soldier” wasn’t the only one confronting demonstrators. He said that a “whole crowd of Pioneer Square kids” - he estimated as many as eleven - joined in the heckling as the marchers left the square.

When the marchers returned 30 minutes later, those at the head of the march found a line of from four to nine young men — the number varies among the witnesses - lined up to block the marchers’ entry back into the southwest corner of the square. According to Seaman, who was with the drum corps at the head of the march, people flowed around and seemed to be ignoring any comments they made. But at some point an altercation broke out between a demonstrator and one of the young men, leading to the former being placed in a chokehold by the latter.

Carl Shoemaker, the protester who ended up in the chokehold, was near the rear of the march and had witnessed these young men harassing an elderly protester with a sign calling for peace in Palestine.
“[Before the march] they were shoving people and kneed an old man in the crotch,” states Shoemaker. “When we came back, I notice the same group of guys — four to nine of them lined up — jump the old man again.”

Shoemaker states he attempted to place himself between the line of young men and the protester in hopes of protecting a man Shoemaker described as in his seventies. But one of the men — later identified as Joshua Noggle — grabbed Shoemaker, spun him around and placed him in a chokehold. The shocked protester states he immediately had difficulty breathing. Shoemaker admits he showed Noggle the back of his fist but did not strike or threaten to strike him.

The assault on the elderly protester and on Shoemaker took place within view of Gabriel Rivera. Seeing that Shoemaker was having difficulty breathing and that Noggle showed no signs of letting up, Rivera scrambled up a nearby half—column, jumped onto the young man’s back and began applying a chokehold to him. Noggle released Shoemaker and Rivera then released Noggle. The latter attempted to seize Rivera and was only prevented from carrying on the fight through the intervention of his companions, who pulled him back from the crowd of demonstrators. One of the group struck a final blow before leaving the scene by kicking Rivera in the leg with sufficient force to cause a laceration and bleeding. Shoemaker later discovered that in addition to the discomfort from the chokehold, he had been stabbed by what may have been a small knife, a fact he subsequently added to his original statement for the police.

Police were not present during the demonstration in response to demands from the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition that the bureau back off from the close—in crowd control tactics they were routinely using. Pioneer Courthouse Square security was complying with the coalition demands as well, resulting in no law enforcement on the scene until organizers of the march decided to call 911.

Police subsequently identified the man heckling the crowd at the start of the demonstration as Arin Marcus. The 27—year—old Portlander is a member of the Oregon Army National Guard. The man who applied the chokehold was identified as Joshua Noggle. The police list Noggle, 22, as a transient. He was one of nine street youths charged in the fatal beating of Richard Crosby three years ago. Noggle was cleared of charges when he passed a polygraph test.

With most of the incident captured on videotape taken by a march participant, police cited both men with fourth degree assault, a misdemeanor. The two were also issued 30—day exclusion orders barring them from Pioneer Courthouse Square. Marcus could still be charged with assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The local Oregon Army National Guard has not determined whether they will pursue charges against the guardsman.

Protest organizers are looking at what needs to be done to prepare demonstrators for violence such as occurred on Aug. 1 or even worse. More training to make demonstrators better prepared when confronted with violent behavior will most likely take place. Other changes could include more monitors on hand to document acts of disruption or violence. But many participants and organizers are concerned about how to handle the possibility that the Aug. 1 incident was organized.

Organizers and participants in the march don’t wish to be alarmist, but they are having difficulty seeing the Aug. 1 clash as little more than a spontaneous summer rumble. Seaman thinks it’s important to find out who these people are and to understand what is motivating them to take such action. He believes there are examples throughout the world where the most marginalized — the lumpenproletariat — are used to carry out the work those in power would rather not do.

“Looking at East Timor, people were recruited from the margins to carry out far more serious attacks on dissenters, including hate crimes,” Seaman states. “In addition to the formal means being used to assault our civil liberties, it would be very naïve to believe informal means were not being used here, too.”

Such informal means can be as well organized as the brown shirts and black shirts who used violence to frighten bourgeois protesters from European streets and physically destroy leftist political activity in the nominally democratic West. Or it can be a much more decentralized process, where communities of the marginalized are kept agitated by presenting scapegoats to explain their own dismal circumstances. An easily targeted “other” becomes the target of lynching, and other forms of quasi—organized violence. As Seaman notes, those who assaulted demonstrators may not listen to racist shock jock Mike Savage; however, the work of Savage, Rush Limbaugh and others is creating a growing pool of listeners who are angry and open to simplistic solutions. From such a pool come tomorrow’s black shirts.

The Portland Peaceful Response Coalition now faces some important challenges. If the Aug. 1 incident was organized, is the coalition willing to stand fast against this effort to quash dissent in Portland? In the short haul, this might mean further loss of participants through fear of another such incident occurring. The coalition has already seen a dramatic drop in crowd sizes since the hot war. Disagreement over the nature and scope of coalition activities has also taken some toll. However, to self—censor or to encourage the police to become more involved in the protest structure to avoid another clash could prove fatal to the coalition and represent a significant blow to the local movement.

Standing fast does not mean that peace demonstrators must accept physical or verbal abuse, either. One of the most effective ways to neutralize political thugs is to present them with overwhelming numbers. But to achieve those numbers and sustain them means a different approach than that pursued during the conventional combat phase of the war in Iraq. It also means broader recognition beyond some of the coalition leadership that this struggle is really part of a broader social justice movement that is fighting not just militarism, but racism, classism, sexism, and imperialism, too. The coming months will tell whether the coalition is willing and able to not only reach common ground with communities still sharply opposed to the war but to accept members of those communities in leadership roles within this struggle.


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Last Updated: January 29, 2003