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The Oregonian Editorial

(from Newsbank Archive)

March 20, 2003

(Emphasis added by QQ)

When war protests break out, demonstrators should be responsible, police professional and everyone else patient Antiwar demonstrators may cause havoc for Portland commuters today. Antiwar activists are talking about breaking away from a large peaceful demonstration on the first afternoon after a U.S.-led attack on Iraq to block intersections, bridges and freeway on-ramps.

Mayor Vera Katz has sent the right message in response: "We welcome citizens to come down and share their views," Katz said, "but we will not tolerate the breaking of any laws." The antiwar protests will test the limits of this city's tolerance for free speech, political dissent and civil disobedience. They also will challenge the professionalism of the Police Bureau, and try the patience of Portlanders wanting nothing more than to get home to their families on what will be an emotional day for everyone.

We urge everyone involved to keep their heads. Portland has a rich history of political protest, but also painful memories of protests, such as May Day 2000, that turned senselessly and needlessly violent, with frightening clashes between police and demonstrators.

Peaceful demonstration is one thing. Civil disobedience is another. Riot is yet another. We expect demonstrators and police to understand the distinctions, and behave accordingly.

Let us say this clearly: It is not inherently wrong or unpatriotic for Americans to protest this or any other war. In our view, President Bush has built a strong case for the invasion of Iraq, a case that will be overwhelming with the inevitable discovery of the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein is hiding. However, those who disagree with this war certainly are free to express themselves on the public sidewalks, streets and parks in Portland and anywhere else in this country -- as long as they do not illegally impede, harm or harass other citizens.

Thousands of Portlanders are expected to join marches, attend vigils and visit churches and other houses of worship following the onset of war with Iraq. It's likely that only a relatively small number of activists will attempt to follow through on vows to "shut Portland down" by splintering off from a main peace rally at 4 p.m. to block bridges and on-ramps to highways.

If that happens, the police should promptly, firmly and safely remove these demonstrators -- and the public should support them for doing so. Chief Mark Kroeker promises that the Police Bureau will work with protest leaders to "ensure the free speech rights of participants." But, the chief said, any "prolonged blockage of motorways," property damage or physical harassment of bystanders or police won't be tolerated.

That's as it should be. The many people opposed to this war are entitled to publicly express their dissent.

They are not entitled -- no matter what they have to say -- to shut down the city.