WASHINGTON - September 1 - Police and Secret Service agents at the Republican National Convention responded with violence to a non-violent protest by AIDS activists today. ACT UP members staged a non-violent protest holding a banner and chanting "Bush Lies, Drop the Debt, Stop AIDS Now" during a speech today by White House Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card, demanding that the Bush Administration reverse its opposition to 100% debt cancellation for Third World Countries devastated by the AIDS crisis. The protest was met with violence on the part of officials responding to the action, as well as youth delegates attending the conference. Bystanders on the conference floor have also refuted claims that a delegate was punched by the demonstrators.
"I was standing right next to the chanting demonstrators," said Kaytee Riek, who was not part of the demonstration. "All of a sudden, men in suits with earpieces started pushing and shoving people and dragged the protesters over and through two or three rows of chairs. They then violently threw them to the ground and handcuffed them."
While a convention delegation claims a demonstrator injured him during the protest, eyewitness accounts strongly refute those reports.
"I was close to the person who was supposedly punched by one of the demonstrators," said Cindra Feuer of New York. "Once the demonstration started, delegates from a couple of nearby rows of chairs started punching the demonstrators and throwing elbows. I asked the man who was hurt if he was okay and he said "Yes. Elbows were flying and I just got caught in the middle of everything." After that, police started urging him to consider filing assault charges against the protesters and seeking medical assistance which he maintained that he did not need. I was surprised to hear those inaccurate reports that the demonstrators initiated the violence."
ACT UP expresses outrage at this increase in the mean-spiritedness and heavy-handed arrest techniques being employed by the New York Police Department, the Secret Service and other security agencies.