Berkeley - Dozens of flag-waving military supporters squared off boisterously with peace activists Wednesday in the first major showdown over a U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station that until recently had been operating below the radar in downtown Berkeley.
Demonstrators led by conservative radio talk-show host Melanie Morgan shouted down members of Code Pink, a group created by Bay Area women, and other peace and social justice groups. The two sides stood on Shattuck Avenue near Addison Street just outside the recruiting station, which was closed Wednesday.
Shortly before noon, there was some pushing and shoving between at least two people, which prompted Berkeley police Sgt. Randy Files to bellow at the anti-war protesters to "move back," forcing them to gather across the street.
"I determined for everyone's safety to separate the two groups," Files said.
Several police officers stood watch, including Berkeley Police Chief Doug Hambleton at one point. There were no arrests, but one protester affiliated with the group The World Can't Wait was cited for burning an American flag, in violation of a city law banning possession of flaming substances in public. The World Can't Wait is opposed to President Bush's policies and wants him out of office.
Members of the two camps shouted at each other and at times yelled the same slogans, including "Support the troops."
"USA," one group chanted. "Out of Iraq," responded the others, who said they were angry that the recruiting station, which relocated from Alameda, is in proximity to Berkeley High School, UC Berkeley and Berkeley City College.
Some demonstrators squared off individually.
"None of us is pro-war! I'm pro-defense," Kevin Graves, 50, of Discovery Bay shouted at one protester. Graves, whose son Army Spc. Joseph Graves was killed in Baghdad in July 2006, continued, "My son died so you and I can stand here and disagree."
In an interview, Graves said, "I think they're misguided," referring to Code Pink.
But David Santos, 15, of Oakland, said the conservative element was on the wrong side of the issue.
"They represent the social base that's giving rise to this imperialistic war. Their so-called patriotic attitude," he said, "just shows their blatant disregard for humanity and what the flag stands for. The very fact that they're holding it up is enough for us to be out here."
Graves yelled at another protester, Pablo Paredes, 26, of Oakland and mocked him for his long hair. "Are you a soldier? They wouldn't let you looking like that," he said.
Paredes said later that he had served five years in the Navy and that people of color like himself bore the brunt of military service.
"I think the color of my skin shouldn't make me be on the front line," Paredes said, adding that he left the Navy because he refused orders and opposed the war in Iraq.
Addressing the crowd, Morgan, a KSFO morning show personality, said, "How much do we have to put up with this, people? They don't understand that we have a volunteer Army. Why don't you guys go bother Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton?"
Georgann Seavey, 63, of San Ramon said she was a flight attendant who shuttled troops back and forth from Vietnam.
"I just don't want to go down that road again, where they're disrespected," she said. "We need to support the troops." Asked for her thoughts on Code Pink, Seavey demurred, saying, "I don't want to give them any publicity."
Roberta Allen, 63, wore contact lenses featuring the U.S. flag.
"Number one, I love my country. Number two, I love our troops. I'm here to defend our defenders."
But a pink-clad Carly Hue, 26, of Berkeley said, "I think you can't make sense out of people who don't make sense. You can't talk to people who won't listen."
Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, said members plan to return to the recruiting station each week to protest. "We feel that it's our obligation because of this war to shut down the recruiting station," she said.
© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle