Sunday, October 5, 2008

NY Times: Report Says Forest Service Has Harassed Gatherings

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A report by the Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union contends that the federal Forest Service has engaged in systematic harassment of people who attend Rainbow Family gatherings on public lands.

The A.C.L.U. opened an investigation this summer after a clash on July 3 between members of the Rainbow Family, an informal group of professed hippies and peace activists, and Forest Service law enforcement officers.

About 7,000 members of the group attended its annual gathering this summer, held in the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Big Sandy in western Wyoming.

Forest Service law enforcement officers fired pepper balls — like paint balls but containing a pepper substance — at Rainbow Family members during the incident.

Scores of witnesses told the A.C.L.U. that the officers had lacked justification. The A.C.L.U. did not talk to Forest Service officials for its report. The report also said that officers had taken the smallest violation as an excuse to search participants’ cars and campsites for drugs.

“This type of harassment and general overzealous enforcement appear to have been the pattern in the U.S.F.S. relationship with the Rainbow Family,” the report said. It reported that the Forest Service had set up roadblocks and safety checkpoints and had “searched and ticketed people on the narrowest of pretexts.”

Linda Burt, executive director of the A.C.L.U. in Wyoming, said her office had interviewed about 60 Rainbow Family members who attended this year’s gathering and reviewed court records of charges against members.

In response to the report, the Forest Service said officers had fired only after a crowd threw sticks and rocks at officers and otherwise interfered in the arrest of a man on drug charges.

John Twiss, the national head of law enforcement for the Forest Service, said Friday that he strongly disagreed with the report.

Mr. Twiss was among the officers who responded to the disturbance at this year’s gathering. He described as “nonsense” the notion that Forest Service officers searched people or vehicles for drugs without probable cause.

The agency wrote only 18 citations for traffic and vehicle violations, but wrote 139 citations and arrested eight people for drug offenses, he said.

The Forest Service is discussing whether to allow future Rainbow Family gatherings on Forest Service lands, he said.

“Their behavior is unacceptable, and it’s a tremendous financial burden on the taxpayers to keep the gathering safe,” Mr. Twiss said.

He estimated that it cost the Forest Service $1 million to patrol the gathering in Wyoming this year. He said the group had not paid any of the costs.

During the pepper ball incident, only one of the people the A.C.L.U. spoke with reported that they had possibly seen one person throw a stick at law enforcement. The rest said they had seen nothing thrown, Ms. Burt said.

In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Burt said the A.C.L.U. was not planning to pursue legal action, but she said she hoped Congress would look hard at the issue. The organization sent its report to members of Wyoming’s Congressional delegation.

“Certainly people do have that right to peaceable assembly under the Constitution,” Ms. Burt said. “It doesn’t state anything in the Constitution that only the ‘right kind’ of people can have peaceable assembly, or only the people who dress like we like to dress can have peaceable assembly.”

Garrick Beck, 58, of Santa Fe, N.M., was a participant at the Wyoming gathering. In a telephone interview Friday, Mr. Beck said he had been attending gatherings since 1972 and had seen increasing harassment from Forest Service law enforcement in recent years.

“I would say that the conclusion that there has been a consistent pattern of harassment is absolutely correct, and some of these consistent patterns have been extremely provocative,” Mr. Beck said.

He said confrontations would escalate more were it not for the peaceful nature of the Rainbow participants.

1 comment:

rainbow_gathering said...

The inserted is a clear view of violations of Constitutional rights involving these incidents at Rainbow gatherings:
Bill of Rights: Amendment I
(1) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
As we who Gather have, since the inception of the Rainbow Tribe/Family, agreed in 100% consensus that as a whole we espouse a-religious concepts which allows all those attending to practice their own religious or spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof and simply being people of good conscience who gather in the cathedral of nature, which all religions state is Gods (by the many names used) creation, I believe that the very first clause, of the very first law of the land, protects Rainbow Gatherings under the Freedom of Religion concepts set forth. The lack of a structured church type entity in no way can imply that those attending are not by nature “religious” in spirit for all who attend practice their believes in harmony with the whole.
(2) Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech:
Rainbow Gatherings are in fact an exercise in Free Speech as all attending have the opportunity to speak freely in all Councils and community endeavors.
The introduction, by the State, of weapons, be they lethal or simply intimidating can only be construed to be coercion which threatens the use of free speech, including the demand to remove those weapons from these peaceful events.
(3) Congress shall make no law against the freedom of the press:
Rainbow Gatherings are attended by diverse press sources, including many alterative media organizations and free lance reporters, as well of course as local and major media. Again we see the police state tactics employed with weapons as being a means to attempt to intimidate the free press, albeit it meets no success at all.
Introducing weapons, and their physical use, are means of coercion to all attending the Gatherings, including the free press.
(4) Congress shall make no law respecting the Right of the people peaceably to assemble:
This clause of the Constitution has always been one of the primary concepts which the Rainbow Gatherings of the Tribes has stood strongly upon and such has been clearly and repeatedly stated in all consultations with government officials, as well as in the Courts.
Rainbow Gatherings, since their inception 36 years ago and their conception 38 years ago, have always maintained peaceful atmospheres for all those attending and all individuals are essentially known to be “Shanti Sena”, Peace Keepers, who prevent non-peaceful behavior by all participants. There can be not debate on any level that they are anything but Peaceful Assembles of The People.
The violence which has occurred is State sponsored by armed agents and again it is clear that such is designed to impose intimidation and fear upon the people for exercising their Constitutional Rights, as set forth here in this Petition. The introductions of weapons into Rainbow Gatherings are nothing short of attempts to subjugate the people to Unconstitutional violations by the State.
(5) Congress shall make no law that will impede the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances:
One of the primary purposes for the existence of Rainbow Gatherings is to find ways and means to restore the Earth to a more natural balance, as opposed to the governments’ endlessly allowing business institutions to destroy it and the public lands which the government administers for greed and profit be a select few, at the cost of the people and all life forms involved.
For that we do grieve and our Gatherings demonstrate that good uses of the land, which belongs (as the opening words of the Constitution state so clearly) to We the People are what those lands are meant for. In dealing with public officials while doing our Gatherings we are in fact also presenting our grievances to government officials, many of whom would prefer the use of government lands solely for those who would destroy and profit from them.
This Petition itself is, in fact, to “petition the government for redress of grievances” and is presented on behalf of all whose signatures as individuals are concerned with the herein statements of facts.
Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The 9th Amendment clearly asserts that no justification based upon any government right, which may be in any segment of the Constitution granting powers to the government, may be used to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people. These rights include all Constitutional and Natural Rights inherent to all living beings