Candidates debate ARRESTS at Drum Circle in Salt Lake City park

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 25 Apr 1999 02:50:27 -0700 (PDT)


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Could those were there report on whether press coverage on the incident
cited below is accurate and fair?

http://www.sltrib.com/1999/apr/04201999/utah/99375.htm
FWD  Salt Lake Tribune - Tuesday, April 20, 1999 [Utah, USA]

     CANDIDATES DEBATE ACTIONS BY POLICE AT PARK

     By Rebecca Walsh - The Salt Lake Tribun

     PHOTO: Sonny Ricks, left, Sandra Urry and Cary Wichman
     meet to discuss the clash between officers and park visitors.
     (Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune)

Something went terribly wrong at the Liberty Park drum circle.

A day after police charged through the crowd swinging riot sticks, city
leaders, mayoral candidates and police agree on that.

Placing blame is another matter.

Some City Council members said they are uncomfortable with the force police
used Sunday to clear the park. Mayoral candidates say a mayor who is aware
of the problem, or simply present, could have headed off the confrontation.
(Mayor Deedee Corradini was in Washington all weekend. She returns
Wednesday.)

But acting Mayor Kay Christensen backs police without question.

Police broke up the weekly gathering after circle participants interfered
with a drug arrest.

"If people had just let the police do their jobs, it would have been a very
routine drug arrest," Christensen says.

Born on a swell of nostalgia for the 1960s and '70s, the circle is a haven
for counterculture neo-hippies, aging hippies, the homeless, young families
and curious onlookers.

The revival is disorganized. Music starts whenever more than one drum is
present and winds up when the drums leave. Food is communal. Recycling is
encouraged. Pierced body parts, hemp, backless tops and drug pipes are
everywhere. The smoke from cigarettes  --  traditional and marijuana  --
wafts through the crowd. After three years of the tradition, crowds can
grow to 500 in the height of the summer.

Police on bicycles sweep by periodically to check the circle. Undercover
officers infiltrate the crowd to gather information about gangs and drugs.

Sunday, an undercover officer witnessed a drug sale, police say. When two
uniformed bicycle officers attempted an arrest, the suspect asked other
circle participants for help. The crowd surrounded the officers and
threatened them, police say, and the two backed away. Later, SWAT officers
and reinforcements arrived and cleared the park, with nightsticks and guns
drawn.

"Everyone overreacted," says Councilwoman Deeda Seed. "Clearly the people
in the drum circle shouldn't have forced police officers out of the park.
But then I wonder why we called in SWAT teams."

Adds Councilman Roger Thompson: "It's always a balancing act."

Police Chief Ruben Ortega on Sunday compared the Liberty Park drum circle
with troubled Pioneer Park, where drug-dealing and loitering drove
Corradini to forcibly scour the block three years ago. Corradini closed
that park for a month for maintenance and hired security officers to
oversee the 10 acres when it reopened. Patrols still sweep through the
park, rousting sleeping transients.

Christensen says administrators and police decided to send a zero-tolerance
message to the drum circlers. "The idea was to get a handle on it in the
spring," she says.

Council Chairman Keith Christensen refuses to second-guess police tactics.
"It's appropriate that we send a strong signal that if we find drug
activity, we deal with it and deal with it quickly," he says.

But other council members fear police were heavy-handed.

"There had to have been some other means," says Councilwoman Joanne Milner.
"We didn't need to go in there with billy clubs. It reminded me of the war
protests of the '60s and '70s. I just didn't want to see that."

Mayoral candidates point to Sunday's clash as evidence of problems in Salt
Lake City's administration and Police Department.

Attorney Ross "Rocky" Anderson, former Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim
Bradley and former Centro Civico Mexicano Director John Renteria have made
their disillusionment with the chief clear, intimating Ortega is in danger
of losing his job if they are elected. State Rep. Dave Jones is equally
skeptical of the chief's crime-fighting policies, but stops short of
promising to fire him. Community and Economic Development Director Stuart
Reid unabashedly backs Ortega.

"The police did what they needed to do to make sure both the park patrons
and the officers were safe," Reid says. "When you're dealing with these
kinds of incidents, it's better to have enough people on the ground to
create a show of force that perpetrators of crime cannot confront."

But Jones blames an absent Corradini for Sunday's "riot." He says an active
mayor would have arranged a meeting with circlers and police to explain
expectations and establish mutually understood rules of conduct. "But we
have an absentee mayor and a crisis on hand," Jones says.

Anderson blames Ortega. "The police essentially victimized everybody in
that park with their show of force and terror," Anderson says. "The people
who were in charge, whoever gave the order and allowed this to happen,
ought to be held to account. Ultimately, that should be Police Chief Ruben
Ortega."

For now, Anderson plans to organize a meeting, too late for Sunday's
debacle, but just in time for next week's inevitable gathering.

END FORWARD

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