Nearly 150 activists joined together Thursday to commemorate the three-year anniversary of a downtown incident they claimed ended with the Eugene Police Department using brutal methods of crowd control.
The protesters held their rally at the intersection of Broadway and Charnelton streets, where on June 1, 1997, demonstrators and police clashed over the city’s decision to cut down several trees to make way for business space and apartments. Three protesters received doses of pepper spray from police officers before being physically removed from the trees.
No arrests were made at the latest rally, which remained peaceful throughout the afternoon. The closest the crowd came to civil disobedience was when some began to walk as slowly as possible through the intersection, which slowed traffic on Charnelton Street.
Two police officers on bicycles arrived on scene, and one yelled to the crowd that anyone blocking vehicular traffic would be arrested. The protesters responded with catcalls and shouts, and the officers left without making any arrests. Several more officers, two fire trucks and two ambulances were stationed a block away from the rally prepared in the event that the protest became unruly.
Later in the day a protester placed two small plants on Charnelton Street, and when a motorist ran one over he shouted, “The first stone has been thrown.”
Demonstrator Mary Ellen, who was helping to hold a banner that read “Stop Cop Violence,” said the incident three years ago showed the city that the “police are out of control” by revealing what she said were brutal methods. She said the police should work “to open a dialogue” instead of picking on groups like the anarchists, environmental groups and campus activists.
Jan Power, the public information officer for the police department, said the department had gone through a long process through the courts and various police organizations that settled the issue. She also said that the department had learned from the incident.
“Things learned from that event have caused changes in the review policy,” she said.
While protesters cheered each other on and some anarchists beat on a newspaper box like a drum, employees in the Symantec building looked down from second and third floor windows. Two police officers filmed the rally from an unmarked police car, and patrol cars occasionally drove by.
One anarchist, who asked to be identified only as the “best-looking black-masked guy here,” said he was at the rally to let “the cops know we’re not going to back down.”
He also said he was there to force the businesses and residents in the downtown mall area to remember what happened three years ago.
“This is an act of psychological retribution,” he said.
Two anarchists staged a puppet show lampooning local police officers. The show has become a regular feature at rallies held by the anarchists.
Some of the people at the rally did not share the same protest fervor, however. David Counter said he was at the protest three years ago, and went to the recent rally just to watch. He said the protesters should realize the urban housing and development that was added in the downtown area saves open space outside of the city.
“It’s too bad the trees were cut down,” he said, “but the city then provided urban housing, which has always been a goal.”
Counter also said the area in which the trees grew was a parking lot, and the trees were not that old when they were cut down.
His friend, who asked not to be identified, was also at the event three years ago, and said the protesters should not hold rallies to commemorate the event because it only worsens tensions between police and activists.
“It’s over and done with,” he said, “and we need to move on.”
Environmental activist James Flynn is one of the three activists police removed from trees in 1997. He said the police caused him intense physical pain when they used almost 20 cans of pepper spray and excessive force to remove him from the tree.
Flynn did not agree that the police had changed since they pulled him from the tree. He said he had attended several Police Commission meetings but had not seen any positive policy changes.
Flynn, who also attended Thursday’s rally, said he was happy with the number of people who came out to remember the incident.
“I think it’s really good that citizens remember that day,” he said.