Gazette editorial critical of St. Patrick's Day march ignored paper's previous reporting

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The Gazette of Colorado Springs claimed in an editorial that police who used force to arrest anti-war marchers in the city's St. Patrick's Day parade were trying to uphold "guidelines" by keeping the parade from becoming "a platform for political statements." But in making that argument, the paper ignored its previous reporting, which quoted the parade's organizer as saying it was "OK" for participants to have a "political message."

A March 20 editorial in The Gazette of Colorado Springs argued that by using force to arrest anti-war marchers in the city's St. Patrick's Day parade, police were "simply trying to uphold parade guidelines" by keeping the parade from becoming "a platform for political statements." However, the editorial contradicted a Gazette article published two days earlier, which quoted the organizer of the parade as saying that it was "OK" for participants to carry a "political message."

As The Gazette reported on March 18, "Seven war protesters who tried to march in Saturday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Colorado Springs were accused of refusing to cooperate with police and arrested. One of them was injured as she was dragged off the road." Writing about the parade on March 20, The Gazette editorialized:

Everything went perfectly as planned. For the anti-war war protesters, that is -- not for parade organizers. Just as the party crashers anticipated, the news on Sunday wasn't about Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade downtown -- which many people judged the best in recent memory -- but about the disruptions and arrests that occurred when a handful of anti-war activists tried to hijack it for selfish purposes.

[...]

The cops might have handled the protesters more gingerly. A failure to do so played right into their hands. But the bulk of the blame for this incident rests with the agitators, who may have gotten a permit to march, using a bit of subterfuge, but clearly acted in violation of parade rules that bar demonstrations on social issues.

[...]

It's true that politicians frequently march or ride in the parade. This opens up event organizers to a charge of inconsistency. So, perhaps it's time to ban politicians altogether -- whom nobody comes to see, anyway. This would draw the line against politicking more boldly, for those who are tempted to bend the rules.

Distinctions can get blurred in situations such as this, so let's be clear. Preventing a political disruption at a non-political event isn't an infringement of anyone's free speech rights. The protesters are free to say anything they want, in the appropriate setting -- as they did at an anti-war protest on Sunday, which anyone could attend who was interested in hearing about the war. But they aren't free to hijack someone else's event -- especially one designed to be apolitical -- in search of a captive audience.

But in arguing that the parade was "designed to be apolitical," The Gazette ignored its earlier reporting, which quoted parade organizer John O'Donnell as saying, "A political message, 'vote for me, vote Republican, vote Democratic,' is OK." As the March 18 article further noted, O'Donnell said that political candidates are allowed to take part, but that the parade has never allowed "social issues."

The editorial also stated, "The police were asked by parade organizers to enforce the rules. When some of the protesters declined to comply, they were arrested. If arrested people flop down on the ground and play possum, they run the risk of getting rugburn when they are forcibly removed. It's a real drag, so to speak."

As a March 18 Denver Post article reported, parade participants "provided photos that appear to show 65-year-old Elizabeth Fineron with bruises and scrapes on her hip after she had been dragged by two police officers across the street." Similarly, the online political daily news site Colorado Confidential on March 19 reported:

Colorado Springs police have launched an internal investigation into the arrests of seven men and women during last Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade in which officers were captured on camera and videotape dragging 65-year old Elizabeth Fineron across the street, resulting in a nasty road rash on her upper thigh and stomach.

The images also show police holding retired Catholic priest Frank Cordaro in a pressure point control that is designed to force compliance through pain, as well as detainees lying face down on the street in handcuffs as parade-watchers look on.

Colorado Confidential also reported that the marchers were members of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, who "maintain[ed] that they were not at the parade to protest, but to peaceably march wearing their green T-shirts, carrying a banner reading 'Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission' and holding signs with messages like 'Kids Not Bombs.' Eric Verlo, the chairman of the PPJPC, had obtained a $15 permit for the group to march."

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