Pro-, Anti-War Rallies Sputter On Nationwide
PITTSBURGH – War protesters blocked traffic and some were pepper-sprayed and arrested during a snowy demonstration in Pittsburgh on Sunday, while thousands of protesters marched through Philadelphia in a cold rain.
The two Pennsylvania demonstrations were among a number of scattered rallies around the country Sunday, some in opposition to the war in Iraq and others in support.
In Philadelphia, several thousand people braved the weather, many wearing buttons that read "Bring Our Troops Home." Interspersed in the crowd were plainclothes officers wearing police armbands.
At the city's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, protesters passed by about 100 men who stood at the memorial's entrance. Bob Yannul, 55, a Vietnam veteran from South Philadelphia, said he and other veterans had gathered out of concern that demonstrators would protest at the memorial in a way disrespectful to veterans.
"It's hallowed ground to us," Yannul said.
He said he did not object to the protests — "that's one of the reasons we went over there to fight in these wars" — but that he hoped everyone, no matter their views, would support the troops overseas.
In Pittsburgh, a group of protesters estimated by police at 250 began with a permitted rally at Frick Park, banging drums and chanting slogans against the war. But they then began an unpermitted march through residential areas, blocking traffic along a major thoroughfare.
Several were sprayed by police with pepper spray when they stepped off the narrow sidewalk. Pittsburgh police said three people were arrested by suburban police and had to be dragged away because they refused to walk.
In Los Angeles, a crowd estimated by police at 5,000 marched through downtown in an early spring heat wave that brought temperatures into the 80s. The march was peaceful and there were no arrests.
"Who would Jesus bomb?" asked a sign carried by Evan Levang, 40.
"It's just a statement on the hypocrisy of people who claim to be spiritual and support massive bombardments," Levang said.
Police said about 1,500 people participated in a pro-troop rally that filled Taos Plaza in Taos, N.M., with veterans of World War II, Vietnam veterans on motorcycles and others. Unlike several anti-war demonstrations held here, there was no confrontation; one anti-war activist did show up briefly carrying a peace sign, then left peacefully.
In Oak Ridge, Tenn., about 200 peace activists danced in the street leading to the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, blocking access until scores of law enforcement officers made a handful of arrests.
About 40 counterdemonstrators held their own rally, waving American flags and playing patriotic songs on a boombox as the peace activists marched past.
In St. Louis, organizers of "The World Wants Peace Rally" near the World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park announced the turnout at more than 4,500. Police believed the crowd was closer to about 2,000 people.
"We must not be deterred by those who characterize us as un-American and unpatriotic. Our citizenship is not the issue," said The Rev. B.T. Rice, an area black leader. He added that protesters back U.S. troops but condemn a war that opponents deem unjust.
Hours earlier, about 100 people gathered outside the city's main downtown post office in a curbside showing of support for the U.S. military, waving American flags big and small behind a banner saying "We Support Our Troops."
In other cities Sunday, groups rallied in support of the war.
Hundreds braved rain, sleet and frigid temperatures to gather in downtown Dover, Del. The Stars and Stripes floated high above a sea of umbrellas, under which demonstrators listened to speeches and patriotic music and chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner reminded people that U.S. troops overseas were fighting to defend their fellow citizens.
"What kind of weather do you think they're enduring?" Minner asked as sleet pounded on the pavement. "This is nothing."
In Kingsport, Tenn., about 150 people from more than 20 churches joined to pray for swift victory in the war.
And in New York, about 100 veterans and family members of Sept. 11 victims gathered at the mesh fence adjacent to ground zero, waving flags and singing "God Bless America."
"My son was the first casualty of war in this extended war that we're in now," said Arthur Russo, whose son, Wayne Russo, died at the World Trade Center. "And I want the whole world to know as far as I'm concerned, those people — especially in this city of New York — who condemn what's going on show total disrespect for my son, the first casualty of war, whose name is listed on these walls as a hero."