GIVING PEACE A CHANCE A protest without the pepper spray… fancy that! Bryan Richardson
Chief Derrick Foxworth's plan to humanize the police bureau's handling of mass gatherings was tested at last Thursday's Inauguration Day protest. And, by all accounts, the plan worked--at least, that is, until it was abandoned.

According to Foxworth, the protest was preceded by multiple meetings with organizers, which eliminated many of the surprises that have led to tension and violence in the past. Full permits were secured by the organizers for gatherings at the North Park blocks, Chapman Square, and the march in between the two sites.

The police chief also "urged" officers to be more communicative with protesters at the event as a way of erasing the dividing line between the two sides. Most notably, Foxworth himself paid a visit, strolling along with the demonstrators and chatting with at least some of the 2,000 protesters--an appearance that was a complete departure from his predecessors.

Foxworth told the Mercury his appearance at the event wasn't out of the ordinary although he admitted the city was forced to make numerous changes in the way it handles events after the 2002 and 2003 anti-Bush protests. The city recently settled lawsuits arising from incidents of abuse and pepper spraying at those events.

Apparently in keeping with those changes, the crowd was largely managed by bicycle cops instead of officers in full riot gear. Those forces, while present, were kept from public view.

Amazingly, the implementation of the police's modifications resulted, for the most part, in an orderly march, which snaked around downtown. The crowd stretched for several blocks, delaying traffic during the 5 pm commute hour, but without any reports of disturbances from businesses along the route.

But when the march ended at the park on Salmon and 3rd, the police suddenly abandoned their polite demeanor, calling in the full armor squad to move protesters from the street onto the park square. With the introduction of the riot cops, communication quickly broke down and tensions expectedly flared. When the police began calling for people to move off the sidewalks and onto the lawn, a fraction of the crowd resisted, leading to a standoff.

Ultimately, that situation resolved itself when a few dozen of the teenage protesters fled the scene to a nearby Chevron station, where they staged an impromptu sit-in. Two girls U-locked themselves to gas station pumps. Protesters said they were trying to make a statement about conspicuous consumption and American priorities.

After a few minutes, many of the protesters seemed to lose interest and simply wandered off. The remaining group was quickly outnumbered by police--many in riot gear.

Over the next hour, the crowd slowly thinned away even more, as the police simply waited them out. Finally, the gas station manager asked everyone to leave and a police spokesperson announced they would arrest anyone still there in three minutes. They waited nearly 10 minutes before moving in.

All told, 13 protesters were arrested for trespassing. The good news? There was no pepper spraying.