Drum Circle ARREST Attempt Turns Salt Lake Park Into "Riot Zone"

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 19 Apr 1999 22:36:29 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Salt Lake Tribune - Monday, April 19, 1999


By Kelly Kennedy and Connie Coyne - The Salt Lake Tribune

The beat from a drum circle meant to bring a feeling of peace instead
brought a police SWAT team bearing billyclubs and tear gas Sunday after
several people at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City incited what police call a

As a result of the incident, Police Chief Ruben Ortega cleared the public
park and vowed to increase police presence there on Sundays when the drum
circle meets.

"It's a shame, but we're not going to let this turn into what Pioneer Park
became with the drugs and prostitution," Ortega said. "Every year, [the
drum circle] is a major problem. Others in the park feel intimidated, and
we need to take control of the park."

But the crowd gathered near the drum circle is a diverse group of families,
students and even homeless people who dance and picnic to the music.

Before Ortega emptied the park on Sunday evening, at least two men and one
woman were beaten on the legs with a police baton and 45 officers and
command personnel from Salt Lake City and six from the Utah Highway Patrol
had pushed hundreds of people  --  including families having picnics on the
lawn.   At about 4 p.m., two undercover Salt Lake City police officers saw
a man selling drugs near the drum circle that meets every Sunday at the
east end of the park. They moved in to arrest him, and he asked the crowd
to help him, said Salt Lake Police Officer J.D. Ledbetter.

"There were about 300 people there and two police officers," Ledbetter
said. "The crowd just closed in. We tried to leave, but they kept following

"The drum kept getting louder and louder," said his partner, Officer John
Beener. "It was pretty scary."

Most of the drum crowd agreed.

"They pushed the cops all the way out of the park," said Joseph Currie, who
immediately grabbed his camera and began snapping pictures.

Police arrested the alleged drug dealer for felony possession and resisting
arrest, Salt Lake Police Lt. Phil Kirk said.

As the group continued their rhythm, police walked through the park warning
families to leave. Then, they formed a line and walked through the entire
park, carrying their billyclubs and telling everyone they had to leave the
park. Between the time of the arrest and the time of the sweep, no officers
approached the group to ask them to leave.

When uniformed officers left the park, Kirk said, "undercover officers
continued to monitor the situation. People who were upset about the arrest
were becoming more and more threatening. They were talking about getting
swords and knives to attack the officers."

<br>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;   As police approached the group, everyone sat in a
circle  --  planning not to move. Police pulled them up by the arms and
forced them to move, waving their billyclubs.

A man refusing to leave his perch on a sandstone Mormon pioneers monument
was pulled down. He immediately put his hands behind his head and lay

"The situation was escalating," Kirk said. He said the man was "beaten on
the legs," and arrested for failure to disperse and resisting arrest.

Claudia K. White confronted an officer who told her she had to leave.

"Go ahead! You can't hit me, I'm a woman," White said. "Hit me! Hit me!"

The officer hit her in the thighs twice with his club, and she moved on.

Most of the group did as they were told, saying, "We love you. We forgive
you," as they went.

Some were more belligerent and egged the officers on: "How dare you? This
is our park. You think you're so bad. You're just a bully," one said.

Other police officers made friendly banter with people as they moved out.

Police pushed the crowd to the pond on the southeast corner of the park,
where they pulled their guns and ordered everyone to leave.

The SWAT team followed the loudest 20 of the group down 13th Street with
their weapons pulled as the group shouted obscenities at them.

"It was a fairly peaceful, but we had about a dozen arrests," Ortega said.
"They were noisy and rowdy, but that was to be expected."

Kirk said five people were arrested for failure to disperse, six for
possession of drugs and nine for alcohol use.

He said it was the first time in recent history that a city park has been
completely closed.

Deputy Mayor Kay Christensen, who is acting mayor while Mayor Deedee
Corradini is in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, said on Sunday night
that there have been neighborhood complaints about "noise from the Sunday
afternoon drum circle," but indicated the incidents on Sunday had "nothing
to do with the noise."

"If the people had not confronted the police after the drug arrests,
nothing would have happened," Christensen said.

Asked if the problem in Liberty Park is similar to the situation in Pioneer
Park when police cracked down on drug sales there, Christensen said, "There
was nothing in Pioneer Park with a group like this [drum circle]."

Ortega was controversial when he came to Salt Lake City after resigning as
chief in Phoenix, Ariz. His critics in Arizona questioned his exercise of
power. In fact, he was characterized as a "little Napoleon" who treads on
the rights of officers and the citizens he is sworn to protect.

While his anti-drug policy was honored by then President George Bush, he
was accused in Phoenix of grandstanding.

He told a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune in late 1992, "A police
officer is the most powerful person in the country, more powerful than the
president. On his own, he can stop you, he can throw you in jail and, if he
feels justififed, he can kill you. You have to be able to handle that kind
of authority."

Many of the drum-circle crowd said the park should not have been closed
this time, either.

"We aren't doing anything," said Alisha Calvert, a mother who works with
the mentally handicapped. "They brought in the whole SWAT team  --  they're
saying the whole crowd is a problem because a couple are smoking pot. The
police caused it to escalate. They wouldn't leave us alone."

Joshua Flack, who works for a credit-card company, said he often relaxes in
the park with the drummers.

"There are a lot of regular people here," he said. "They play drums here
every Sunday, and it's kind of neat."

 But others disagreed: "Drugs are illegal," said Elizabeth Winters, who
said she's been clean of drugs for six months. "If you're going to do it in
a public place, you're going to get busted. You can't be doing drugs with
kids around  --  that's not right. I totally agree with what [the police]
are doing."

Winters was later run out of the park with the rest of the crowd.

"I know there's issues out here with alcohol and pot," said Dan Marsh,
president of Earth Jams promotions. "And they shouldn't have been yelling
at the cops like that. But just because there are a few bad seeds doesn't
mean the whole group is bad. You can't pick people out of a crowd just
because they look suspicious. What's suspicious?"

Currie said the group will return next Sunday, and his brother, Michael Lee
Currie, explained why: "I'm not LDS," he said. "I'm not anything else, and
this is where we go. This is our church. It's a community. If you were
here, then, hey, I love you, man."

[Salt Lake Tribune reporter Greg Burton contributed to this story.]


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