A rally against President Bush and Republican Senate candidate Richard Thornburgh turned violent yesterday when local AIDS activists tried to storm the downtown Bellevue Hotel where Bush was giving a speech. Several protesters and two police officers were injured during a brawl between ACT-UP -- the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power -- and members and the Philadelphia Police after protesters pushed their way through police barricades across Broad Street from the hotel. At least one protester fell to the ground with blood pouring out of his head and several others were hit on their heads and bodies with nightsticks. "I was walking over to [an injured man] and then I felt a big blow on my head," ACT-UP member Alexis Boss said. "When I got up, all I saw was cops around me." About a dozen different groups participated in the four to five hour rally, protesting Bush's domestic policies and Thornburgh's Senate campaign. Many protesters demanded that the two Republicans pay more attention to health programs, housing problems and unemployment. The protesters represented several local and national organizations, including ACT-UP, the National Organization of Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League, workers from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and local union employees. ACT-UP and the abortion-rights groups were the most vocal and brought the largest crowds with them. Both groups kept up a steady stream of chanting, shouting slogans like "George Bush, you make me sick, money for AIDS, not for Dick." Several University students also participated in the protest. "I'm anti the policies of George Bush," Social Work graduate student Elissa Hason said. "Maybe if everyone yells loud enough, long enough, change will occur." But most of the activists questioned did not believe their presence yesterday would change the policies of the Republican Party. "It will help each of us individually to feel encouraged, but I don't think Bush will change because he sees us out here," said Jourdan Keith, a West Philadelphia poet. Keith, who said she went to the rally to support ACT-UP and women's rights, held a painted sign with the words to one of her poems: "I don't want their blood on the hands of my conscience. I don't want their screams in the throat of my dreams." The violence started around 6:10 p.m., while Bush was inside the hotel, when about 20 ACT-UP members pushed their way through the wooden barricades towards the hotel, holding a coffin filled with ashes -- supposedly of AIDS victims -- above them. The protesters then threw the coffin over the barrier. After the 20 people broke through, the crowd massed along the barriers pushed forward. The police immediately started to push back the rushing crowd, with their hands and their nighsticks. Some picked up the sawhorses used as barricades and used them to push people back. They eventually brought in police officers on horses to move the activists back onto the sidewalk. Several ACT-UP members staged a "die-in" in the middle of the street, while others dragged people away from the police officers. In the confusion, some officers became separated from the others and they and other protesters were nearly trampled. Although it is unclear how the pushing escalated, officers hit several people with nightsticks Almost immediately, an ambulance drove up to take away the injured officers and protesters, and an activist smeared blood from the ground on the side of the van. Witnesses said a WCAU-TV Channel 10 cameraman fell to the ground and was repeatedly kicked by a police officer. "They beat people up," University of the Arts student Jennifer Kile said. "And then they came back with tear gas and I got maced trying to run away." The Associated Press reported early this morning that a total of eight protesters were arrested, one of whom was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital for a head injury. He was still in the hospital at press time. Fisher said four officers were also taken to the hospital with minor injuries and released and one other protester was treated for injuries. Police Commissioner Willie Williams said he could not comment on some protesters' claims that the police were unnecessarily violent until he has conducted an investigation. He said the officers were not any more forceful because they were protecting President Bush. "Some people do not accept the fact that the police officers have to keep people back behind the barriers," Williams said. "If a police officer is assaulted, he can take [the attacker] into custody to restore order." Williams said several hundred officers were on the scene to protect the president, including about 20 officers on horses. Several officers wore rubber gloves, which Williams said is standard practice when the officers may be exposed to bodily fluids like blood.Comments powered by Disqus
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