As evidenced by the recent demonstrations in Washington, DC that drew nearly 200,000 protestors, the anti-war movement is being “reinvigorated,” as reported in the October 30th New York Times. Locally, the trend of increasing skepticism and opposition to the Bush administration’s plans to use military force in Iraq has been reflected in the growing number of people attending the weekly protests along Prospect Avenue organized by A.W.A.R.E., the Anti-War, Anti-Racism Effort.
A.W.A.R.E. has organized various protests around Champaign and Urbana during the past year. The protests began in the spring of 2001 with a regular demonstration near the Urbana Free Library by “Ladies Against War,” in opposition to the bombing of Afghanistan. These protests later moved to Saturdays at the interstate exit at Prospect Avenue.
Until recently, local police have no objected to the protesters’ presense nor been asked to intervene on behalf of their safety. On Saturday, October 19, 2002, however, two anti-war protestors were issued citations by the Champaign Police Department. Those cited were Ellen Fireman and Michael Weissman, both professors at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. They were issued $75 citations for jay-walking.
Other demonstrations took place before the Chicago Bears’ football games, initially at Lincoln near Green in Urbana. At that demonstration, literature was handed out for the first time. The next two protests took place on Kirby Avenue, and literature was again handed out. Police gave no warnings, formal or informal, that this was illegal or inappropriate.
ENRAGED DRIVER INDICATES HE WILL “RUN OVER” PROTESTERS
October 12, 2002 saw the first of what AWARE members hoped would be a weekly presence on Prospect Avenue. While the protesters were met with a lot of positive enthusiasm — including having people who were driving by stop to join their effort — they were also met with negative responses. In the most serious, a vehicle left the roadway, and drove on to and then off the sidewalk numerous times — threatening the protesters. A woman who had her back turned narrowly missed injury; she was pulled out of the way by her partner. The driver was all the while shouting expletives at the peace protesters. The police were called by the protesters and provided with the license plate number of the offender. The police assured Kimberlie Kranich, protest organizer, that they would “go talk to” the offender.
The Champaign Police department reports that the status of that investigation was “still open” and that no arrests have been made. In fact in follow up phone calls we have learned that there has been no investigator assigned. The officer who took the report (Officer Standifer) has not returned phone calls of inquiry. The investigation number is #70212351.
The Champaign police acted with significantly more dispatch when the crime was jay-walking rather than endangerment. On October 19th the protest started at 2pm, and the citations were issued almost immediately. Ms. Fireman, who had not attended protests or AWARE meetings previously, was not aware of the laws prohibiting her being on the street and was actually between two lanes of traffic as the police came over the over-pass, heading north. Mr. Weissman was simply stepping off the curb, offering a flier to cars stopped at the red light. Two police stopped their vehicle and ordered all of the protesters to gather in a nearby parking lot. When one of the officers indicated that they would be issuing a citation to the two on the street, a member of the group asked if they could issue a warning instead. “I could, but I’m not going to,” was the answer given by the officer. Several members of the protest group reported that the police insisted that the jaywalkers were responsible for the traffic jam at the intersection. In fact there was a traffic jam all afternoon in spite of the fact that the protesters stayed on the sidewalk and after they had disbursed. There was high traffic volume, resulting in backup in all four directions at the intersection, as is usual on Saturday afternoon on Prospect Avenue. The police did nothing to direct traffic and try to clear the congestion.
Fireman and Weissman were ordered to leave the scene, and the group was told that they would be arrested if they were on the grass beside the sidewalk or on the street. They were only allowed to be on the sidewalk. The group sustained a presence on Prospect Avenue through the afternoon. The group continues to protest each Saturday at 2pm at the corner of Prospect and Marketview. AWARE meetings are held at the Indy Media Center, 218 W. Main, Urbana IL, every Sunday from 5-7pm. All are welcome.