Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Battle Hymns of the People's Republic

By Anneli Star Josselin Rufus
Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 11:04 AM

The screaming got so intense that saliva-spray gleamed in an almost-summery Berkeley sun, spindrifts of it hovering slo-mo like closeups in a garden-hose commercial or a porn film, wincingly bright between fury-purpled faces pressed inches apart: the military mom and the gray-haired radical. The flag-waver and the wag who unplugged the sound system, silencing the "Star-Spangled Banner." The high-schooler in orange World Can't Wait bandanna and gold Chanel earrings calling the army vet a bigot and a bitch.

At various points — as Apprehension recorded, roaming from fracas to fracas - the rhetoric had an almost playground sound, as when a teen howled at a vet, "Get off our territory! This is our park! This is our school!" (Umm ... the park is public. And Berkeley High School is ... across the street.) Another student ordered a middle-aged woman to "grow the fuck up." Another asked an elderly vet, "Why don't you take your old ass over there and fight?"

Through a megaphone, another intoned, "The racist warmongers aren't leaving. Why should we?"

An expected visit from the homophobic Kansas-based Reverend Fred Phelps did not materialize.

Yesterday seemed a great day to rob a house or steal a car in Berkeley because a majority of the town's police force appeared otherwise occupied. Nightsticks in hand, over a hundred cops patrolled the City Hall/Civic Center Park standoff between supporters and opponents of a downtown Marine Corps officer-recruiting center. (But ha ha, armed robbers: The usual number of cops was indeed policing the city all day; those at the rally were an added security complement.) On January 29, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution declaring the Corps "unwelcome intruders" — as by now the whole country knows, because this fracas made the national news. Complete with a Code Pink tent city and legions of teens whose World Can't Wait scarves masked their faces bandito-style, the rally preceded last night's council meeting, at which the Marines issue was to be revisited — and was eventually rescinded. But all afternoon, tempers ran red-hot.

Some 2,000 strong at one point, the phalanxes waved such placards as (on one side) "Give Peace a Chance" and "Stop Bush's Death Pimps," and (on the other) "Freedom Isn't Free" and "Keep Your Burka, I'll Keep My Clitoris."

Around 3:00 p.m., Apprehension overheard cops discussing their plans to stop people from skateboarding on the park's westernmost concrete strip — for safety reasons, given the crowds. But their efforts to enact this plan sparked combative words and menacing gestures, and two boys aged thirteen and fifteen were arrested "for challenging the pro-military protesters to a fight," according to BPD Sergeant Mary Kusmiss. Apprehension watched one sad-faced towheaded youth in World Can't Wait neckerchief and Nor Cal T-shirt being led stationward by two beefy cops. The boys were then "booked and released to a responsible adult/parent."

Waves of supporters chanted "Let them go" and "If they don't go, we won't go" outside the Public Safety Building where the boys were being booked. It was there, facing a line of police officers, that an eighteen-year-old woman was arrested. According to Kusmiss, the woman "refused to step back," after being ordered to do so. "She kept demanding to get into the building. When a sergeant reached out to control her, the woman slapped the officer. She was arrested and booked for 148PC, Obstructing/Resisting a peace officer and 243(b), Battery on a Peace Officer."

Other protesters littered the park profusely with food wrappers, but as usual none were prosecuted.

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