Volume 8, Number 16 - July 10, 2008
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Rainbows, Officers Clash During July 3 Arrest
An incident near the main meadow of the Rainbow Family of Living Light’s national gathering near Big Sandy has elicited harsh words froma top U.S.Forest Service official and an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The July 3 incident occurred around 8 p.m. after Forest Service (FS) law enforcement officers (LEOs) “…made contact with an individual that would not cooperate and fled,” according to FS Public Affairs Specialist Rita Vollmer, who added the initial contact was drug-related. “(LEOs) followed him, tracked him down and apprehended him.”
After the individual was apprehended, Rainbow members circled the officers and began to “physically interfere,” Vollmer said. A second individual was detained and the crowd grew to 400.
Ten officers called for assistance in the main meadow area when, “The mob began to advance, throwing sticks and rocks at the officers. Crowd-control tactics were used to keep moving through the group of Rainbows.” Those crowd-control measures included the use of non-lethal pepper-ball guns, which are modified paintball guns, to disperse the crowd.
One officer sustained minor injuries and one government vehicle was damaged in the melee. Five Rainbows were arrested during the incident.
The gathering had an estimated 7,000 family members present at the time.
John Twiss, director of Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations in Washington, D.C., was among the officers who responded. He characterized the Rainbow participants as “non-compromising,” “arrogant” and “anti-authority.”
He also suggested the FS review its decision to allow Rainbow Family events saying the FS spends a lot of time and energy on the gatherings.
“Frankly,” he said, “I think the taxpayers deserve better.”
Twiss wasn’t the only person disturbed by the clash. The Wyoming Chapter of the ACLU plans to investigate the incident.
Executive Director Linda Burt said her organization will accept collect calls from Rainbow Family members for the next two weeks to hear how law enforcement treated them.
She was particularly concerned with reports officers were citing Rainbows for insignificant violations and were walking through the camps without provocation asking gatherers if they were using drugs.
Burt said the ACLU’s response to the matter depends on what it learns from Rainbow Family members. She said it’s possible the ACLU could submit a report or the organization could post observers at future family gatherings.
Calls to the ACLU Wyoming office were not returned but its voice mail said all complaints must be issued in writing.
Burt hasn’t said who made the original complaint. It is, however, almost certain that the Rainbows’ testimonials will be in sharp contrast to the FS. An anti-establishment Internet radio station, We the People Radio Network (WTPRN), was broadcasting live from the gathering during its “Rule of Law” program when the riot occurred.
Co-host Deborah Stevens characterized the incident as an unwarranted attack against peaceful people. “(The LEOs) are dragging women and children out of their tents. They’re dragging crippled men out of the woods. They’re pepper-spraying and tear-gassing children. I mean what is this country come to. It’s making me cry really.”
Stevens said she was organizing Rainbows who videotaped the event saying she plans to use the footage as evidence of FS misconduct.
On Monday, the first Rainbow riot video appeared on the Internet.
One video shows Rainbow members hurrying through the trees while a middle-aged Rainbow with a dark beard and dreadlocks talks to the camera. “They came up in the kiddy village,” he said. “They had their guns out, their tasers; they started macing people with their air rifles with pepper spray.”
Another Rainbow said he was shot in the arm by a pepper-ball gun.
The video does not show the actual conflict.
From the FS perspective, Vollmer said she was not aware of any FS video or photos of the incident and she added the FS is open to an ACLU investigation. “(The LEOs) were in there doing their jobs and performing just like any other day,” she said. “…We welcome (the ACLU’s) questions. There wasn’t anything we were doing that any officer on a regular day would be doing. It just so happens it was at a Rainbow Gathering at Big Sandy.”
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