Monday, August 13, 2007

[olympiaworkers] Police brutalize IWW picketers in Rhode Island

The gist from what I've read:

IWW and SDS members were holding an informational picket and march outside a pan-asia restaurant in North Providence, RI.  At issue was the restaurant's refusal to terminate its association with Dragon Land Trading, a NYC supplier that reportedly pays its workers $5 an hour and makes them work 100 hours a week.

As they peacefully marched, police attacked organizer Alex Svoboda, throwing her to the ground, and dislocating her knee.  She's expected to need three surgeries.  Police charged her with assaulting three officers, resisting arrest, and obstructing justice.  They also arrested another demonstrator, and charged him with obstruction of justice.  Several demonstrators were also pepper-sprayed.

Photos of the brutality are here:

The story from the local newspaper:

From the Providence Journal:

Protesters, police scuffle near restaurant
01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, August 12, 2007
By Elizabeth Gudrais

Journal Staff Writer
NORTH PROVIDENCE — A 22-year-old Providence resident suffered a dislocated knee during a scuffle with the police yesterday, as officers intervened in a protest over the labor practices of a New York food distributor used by a local restaurant.

The police and the protesters tangled before the protesters even reached their destination, Jacky's Galaxie, a pan-Asian restaurant at 1449 Mineral Spring Ave. The protesters had parked at a Brooks Pharmacy a few blocks away and were walking to the restaurant when six North Providence officers arrived and directed them to move to the side of the road because they were obstructing traffic.

The situation escalated. The police used pepper spray. The demonstrators said officers were restraining Alexandra Svoboda, and she was trying to get free, when they "tackled" her and dislocated her knee.

"I think they were making an example of her because they were frustrated" said Mark Bray, of Providence, an organizer for Industrial Workers of the World, the labor union that arranged the protest along with the Brown University group Students for a Democratic Society. Protests "don't happen very frequently in North Providence," he said. "They don't have experience in dealing with groups like us."

Bray said he believed the incident constituted brutality and that the group would be examining avenues of recourse. The police response "was excessive and there's no excuse for it," Bray said.

Asked about Bray's statement, police Sgt. Michael Paiva, who was on the scene, said, "I totally disagree." He said the officers' response was justified in part because they were severely outnumbered.

The protesters estimated the group's size at 30 to 40, but Paiva said there were 100 protesters.

Six officers were facing a crowd of "100 people screaming in the middle of the street, refusing to move and disobeying every order the officers gave them," Paiva said.

The police charged Svoboda, of 139 Wood St., Providence, with three counts of assaulting a police officer, and with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Paiva said Svoboda was "hitting," "kicking" and "pushing" officers.

He said one officer, Brian DiPetrillo, suffered minor injuries, but declined to specify what type of injury.

Jason Friedmutter, 23, also of 139 Wood St., was also arrested, charged with obstructing an officer in the line of duty.

Paiva said he expected Friedmutter would be released after appearing before a bail commissioner at police headquarters yesterday. He said Svoboda would appear before a bail commissioner at Rhode Island Hospital, where she was being treated.

The hospital had no information on Svoboda's condition last night, but Bray said she was undergoing surgery.

The altercation occurred around noon. Half an hour later, the traffic on the always-busy Mineral Spring Avenue was complete gridlock.

At Jacky's, it was lunchtime and the neon "Open" sign was lit, but the parking lot was empty, except for police vehicles.

Two dozen protesters milled about in the 85-degree heat, chanting "No more sweatshops!" and holding signs reading, "Jacky's Galaxie doesn't care!" One banged drumsticks on a plastic bucket hanging upside-down from a string around his neck.

Two state police troopers joined the North Providence officers in keeping watch over the situation. For a brief time, a Johnston officer with a police dog was also at the scene.

"You've got to do something," the restaurant's owner, Jacky Ko, said to the officers. "They can't stay here."

When Deputy Police Chief Paul Marino approached to tell the protesters they needed to move onto the sidewalk instead of standing in the parking lot, one responded, "Hell of a day to be an officer, breaking a young girl's leg!"

Marino did not respond.

Outside the Subway restaurant next door, a man leaned against the wall, munching a sandwich in the shade and watching. He was just one of many onlookers the spectacle attracted.

A short time later, another officer approached them to warn: "If you stand still, it's considered loitering. Keep moving."

Eventually, the protesters confined themselves to the sidewalk and began filing in a small oval, carefully avoiding the restaurant driveway.

Their complaints were not specifically with the restaurant, but with Dragon Land Trading, a New York-based restaurant supply company from which Jacky's buys.

The students said Dragon Land Trading failed to pay minimum wage and overtime, as federal labor laws require, fired employees who joined a labor union, and changed its name to evade an investigation by the New York attorney general.

A search of the New York state corporations database turned up a Dragon Land Trading Inc., with Jim Zhong as registered agent, and an address of 162 Mott St., Apt. 15, in Manhattan, but no phone number or Web site for the company could be found yesterday. A phone number the protesters gave for the company was not answered.

The protest group included students from Brown, Providence College and Rhode Island College, other Rhode Islanders of various ages, and Balthazar Ramos, of New York, who said he worked for the supply company for two years but was fired for his union involvement. Ramos said he worked 112 hours per week, was paid $4.90 per hour, and was not compensated for overtime.

Bray said Jacky's is not the only restaurant in Rhode Island to use the supply company. He declined to name the other restaurants, saying the group is still trying to work with them to get them to switch suppliers.

Ko claimed yesterday that he stopped buying from the company early last month and has been using a different supplier since then. Bray said he had spoken with Ko in the weeks leading up to the protest and Ko had never mentioned this.

Ko brought out invoices to prove it, and showed them to Bray.

Bray asked for photocopies. Ko said he would provide them.

Half an hour later, the demonstrators said he returned and told them he had consulted his lawyer and did not plan to give them copies.

The protest disbanded at 2 p.m., but Bray said they planned to continue picketing Jacky's, and possibly also at the chain's other locations, in Cumberland and Bristol, until they got satisfactory proof that the chain has switched suppliers.

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