Protests hit campus
By Sharon Stello/Enterprise staff writer
The Davis Enterprise, June 26 2003

Three protesters were arrested at UC Davis after two dangled from ropes tied to a stair railing and tied themselves to a 48-foot-tall DNA model suspended in a stairwell Tuesday afternoon. The other protester locked himself to the railing with a bike lock.

The spectacle was part of a rally against genetically engineered trees at the Life Sciences building on campus. About 50 forest activists came to Davis for the demonstration after protesting an international agricultural conference in Sacramento for the past few days.

No injuries were reported in Tuesday's demonstration, but police instituted a building lock-down, dividing protesters into indoor and outdoor groups. Some protesters wore green foam trees on their heads while one man wore a tomato costume and covered his face with a picture of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

Police eventually proclaimed the protest an unlawful assembly and ordered everyone to clear the building in five minutes or they would be arrested. Officers in riot gear formed a line to guard the entrance while firefighters extricated the protesters dangling from the stairwell.

University officials reported no damage to the DNA model, a $50,000 art sculpture depicting a snippet of the human genetic code. "Portrait of a DNA Sequence" is a suspended ribbon of coiled steel and colored glass.

The demonstration may prove to be a warm-up for more protests anticipated today with agricultural ministers planning to visit sites around Davis.

The three young men arrested Tuesday have refused to give their names and remain in custody at the Yolo County Jail. When asked for their names at the protest, the men gave names of endangered trees. They were arrested on charges of failing to disperse, failing to obey officers' instructions and conspiracy to commit a crime.

During the protest, the men and other members of the group read a list of demands.

They said they want "an end to research on genetically engineered trees at UCD; full disclosure and acknowledgment of the hazards of genetically engineered trees, especially the threat of genetic contamination, destruction of beneficial soil organisms and uncontrolled diffusion of patented genes; an end to corporate-funded biotechnology research at the University of California; cancellation of plans to build a new biological weapons lab at UCD; and a full public discussion and full community involvement in all decisions about potentially hazardous research."

The university has submitted an application to the National Institutes of Health to build a biocontainment lab where scientists would study some of the world's deadliest diseases -- not develop biological weapons, according to UCD officials. While the proposed biolab was mentioned in the list of demands, protesters mostly focused on genetic engineering.

"We're here to demand that UC Davis, which does some good things as well, get out of all genetically engineered research and development," said Mark Desmarets of Portland, Ore.

In a news release distributed by the group, Brad Hash, of Action for Social and Ecological Justice based in Burlington, Vt., took exception with the Dendrome project, an international effort coordinated by UCD.

"Davis is the headquarters of the Dendrome project, an effort to further the manipulation of tree genetics at the expense of our native forests and the world's biological diversity.

"They are mapping the genomes of pine, fir and poplars to advance the genetic engineering of trees; these GE trees will resist herbicides, kill insects and have less structural strength, which will only benefit the pulp and paper industry."

Desmarets said altering the gene structure of trees and crops is not a proven technology and may not be safe.  "We're actually changing evolution ... we have absolutely no idea what the effect will be in the long run," Desmarets said.

Charles Gasser, a UCD professor of molecular and cellular biology, came down to the lobby and engaged in a mini-debate with the protesters, saying "I'm really glad to talk to you, it's my job, I'm an educator." Police later asked him to move the discussion outside, but no one followed him.  Gasser said this morning that the protesters were using "a wildly inaccurate view of (plant) breeding versus genetic engineering."

The protesters said genetically engineered genes are more unstable than genes in naturally bred plants. Gasser said this is untrue. For example, every different colored kernel in an ear of Indian corn, or maize, is "a new genetic event, a new organism."

In a separate event Tuesday, about 25 protesters gathered outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture offices in downtown Davis, asking to speak to a representative, said Davis police Lt. Jim Harritt.  "There wasn't anyone made available for them to talk to," Harritt said. Afterward, the group moved on to the UCD campus.

Responding to the protest on campus were units from Sacramento and UCD fire departments, Davis, West Sacramento and UCD police, Yolo County Sheriff's Department, and California Highway Patrol. Sacramento Fire Department has special training in extrication.

[Protesters rappel next to the "Portrait of a DNA Sequence" sculpture Tuesday in the UC Davis Life Sciences Building. Greg Rihl/Enterprise photo.]
Clashes smaller but sharper; tab could exceed $2 million
By Dorothy Korber and Mike Bush -- Bee Staff Writers
Sacramento Bee, Wednesday, June 25, 2003

For the third straight day, downtown Sacramento was an armed camp Tuesday, as a roving band of protesters skirmished with police.  Meanwhile, the costs of providing security for a controversial conference continued to mount.

Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera Jr. estimated his department's costs at more than $750,000 -- a third of that for overtime pay. For the California Highway Patrol, expenses probably will exceed $1 million, according to Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick.

Add to that costs for sheriff's deputies, firefighters, paramedics and city workers, and the price tag for state and local taxpayers likely will climb well above $2 million, officials estimated.

"We don't have a choice," Najera said. "We have to police it."

The focus of all this attention is the three-day international Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, held in the Sacramento Convention Center and hosted by the U.S. government.

The conference, which ends today, has spawned days of protest by activists who object to genetically modified food and the role of American big business in agriculture around the globe.

On Sunday and Monday, mass demonstrations closed downtown streets and brought a carnival atmosphere to the capital. The tenor of the protests changed Tuesday, with a much smaller core of about 100 determined activists engaging in more aggressive confrontations with police.

"The numbers are less, but the passion is higher," Najera said.

Around 11 a.m., police confronted the group of protesters in front of the Convention Center. About 15 demonstrators sat down in the intersection at J and 14th streets, their arms linked. A Sacramento police officer, using a bullhorn, ordered them several times to get back on the sidewalk or risk serious injury.

As soon as the protesters stood up and moved back to the sidewalk, officers rushed in and made two arrests.

For a few minutes chaos ensued, as dozens of police on foot -- some brandishing Taser guns -- and about 10 others on horseback pushed the demonstrators back into police barricades. A handful of people received electric shocks from the guns.

"The police trapped the crowd," said one protest organizer, a writer who asked to be identified as Starhawk. "There was nowhere to go."<P> Throughout the day, police clearly outnumbered demonstrators, many of whom said they felt intimidated.

June West, a Humboldt State University student, was one of those hurt in the fracas. She said she was "sandwiched between bicycle cops and riot cops with Tasers. Behind them were the horses." West said she lost "a chunk of skin" from her leg when she was pushed into a police bicycle.

A little later, three more protesters were arrested after police advised the crowd it was an illegal assembly. "Let them go! Let them go!" chanted their companions, who then decided to march to the county jail to demand the release of everyone arrested since the protests began on Sunday.

After walking around the jail, the demonstrators stood in front of the building for nearly an hour. Gradually, the tension eased. Sandwiches and cold water materialized, distributed by other activists. At the same time, police personnel supplied bottles of water to officers on the street.

When the demonstrators left the jail at Sixth and I streets, hundreds of police officers forced them to walk to the protest "Welcome Center" at 12th and C streets. Officers blocked intersections, allowing no one to leave the prescribed route. At one point, the demonstrators stopped walking but immediately were threatened with arrest.

Later in the day, the focus turned to the site of the former Mandella Community Gardens, where 14 had been arrested Sunday night.

When demonstrators arrived at the site shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday, they found it ringed by sheriff's deputies -- with scores of Sacramento police and California Highway Patrol officers standing ready nearby.  The same 100 demonstrators began a noisy but peaceful march around the site, chanting "Let the gardens grow," and "I don't see no riot here -- take off all that stupid gear."

The crowd eventually dissipated, with no arrests.

Overall, only 10 arrests were made Tuesday, police said, bringing the total for the three days to 75.  "The low number of arrests will save us money in the long run," Chief Najera said. "Our highest overtime cost is our officers' court time."

At the protest Welcome Center, several demonstrators complained they were hassled or arrested by police for wearing bandannas and carrying protest signs on wooden stakes. They said police cited a new Sacramento city ordinance that restricts what protesters can wear and carry in a parade.  The law, passed on an emergency basis last week, calls for signs only of cloth, paper or cardboard no thicker than a quarter inch. Signposts have to be less than a quarter inch thick and its ends cannot be pointed.

The ordinance also prohibits protesters from wearing gas masks or other filtering devices over their faces -- though exactly what the provision was intended to refer to remains unclear.  Deputy City Manager Richard Ramirez said the city's ordinance does not prohibit the bandannas that some of the protesters have been wearing over their faces this week.

Not all the protest action was focused on Sacramento Tuesday. In Davis, three protesters locked themselves to a DNA sculpture in a science building at the University of California, Davis. Two of them dangled by ropes from a stairway.

Firefighters from Davis and Sacramento managed to extricate the three, who were then arrested.