by Judy Hodgson.
Editor and Publisher

Remember "My country right or wrong" from the Vietnam War era?

That simplistic phrase is strikingly similar to the "We-support-law-enforcement" campaign launched by a North Coast advertising agency following the release of the pepper spray tapes to the media (see Cover Story).

Do we support law enforcement? Well, of course we do. Good law enforcement, just as we support members of the clergy who give compassionate counsel, teachers who are well prepared and dedicated to their students, judges who make thoughtful, independent decisions, and competent, caring nurses and physicians. These are all professions that on the whole attract people not just because of a salary but because of a higher calling.

There will always be exceptions. For instance, law enforcement occasionally attracts the former schoolyard bully and he is the type police academies spend a lot of time and effort trying to weed out.

Do we have good law enforcement on the North Coast?

Generally, yes. In addition to the traditional police duties of arresting lawbreakers and keeping the peace, look at their efforts and accomplishments in community-based policing, gang prevention and youth programs. And yes, the facilitation of peaceful protests.

Are we tired of -- and just a little bit miffed by -- those Headwaters demonstrators who tie up our tax dollars with their protests while they try to draw national attention to their cause? Yes.

Have we, the local news media, become callous to their cause and to their cries of police harassment?

I know I have. I read in the Times-Standard of the arrest of the four women in Riggs' office and never got to the ninth paragraph where officers confirm that pepper spray had been used.

But the big question is, was it wrong to use pepper spray to expedite the arrest of demonstrators?

In my opinion, yes. It was wrong to use it and it was wrong to use it in a non-approved manner. I believe in the long-run the judicial system will say so, too.

To use pepper spray was a poor tactical decision made by Sheriff Dennis Lewis, apparently with the approval of District Attorney Terry Farmer, our two top county law enforcement officers.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said it best in her letter to Lewis, when she called the use of pepper spray in this manner on nonviolent demonstrators "unfortunate, unnecessary and unhelpful."

There are others who were unhelpful and -- inadvertently or not --contributed to the polarization of the community. Chief among them was Rep. Frank Riggs, prompted by overstatements by his staff and his own natural sympathy for the tough job of being a cop (Riggs is a former deputy sheriff).

The issues that will be argued in the civil rights case are huge: Plaintiffs are claiming their most basic rights were violated under the 1st, 4th and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

Regarding costs to the county, win or lose, the civil rights lawsuit will cost this county far more than we spent last year citing and releasing 2,000 protesters. And it will cost us far more that the $100,000 we paid in 1991 because correctional officers in the county jail decided to teach those protesters a lesson by shaving their heads.

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