An update to this continuing story is posted at Springs Police Launch St. Paddy’s Parade Investigation.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Eric Verlo’s children watched as their father, along with 65-year old Elizabeth Fineron, were yanked by police out of his bookmobile in the middle of a parade and thrown to the ground.
Photos show Fineron, who ordinarily walks with the assistance of a cane, subsequently being dragged across the street. Verlo, a Colorado Springs businessman and chairman of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, was pushed face down on the street, and handcuffed. Police seized control of his bookmobile, at least temporarily, and drove it away from the parade.
Bill Durland, who was part of a group of about 45 marching with the Bookman bookmobile, says he watched as Colorado Springs police, some wearing riot helmets, descended into the crowd.
One cop kneed a woman in the groin as she lay on the ground. Another broke a wooden peace sign that one of the participants had been carrying. One photo shows a cop with his arm around the neck of a retired priest, Frank Cordaro, in an apparent chokehold. In another shot a cop hoists a Taser.
In all, seven people were arrested, including Durland, who turns 76 this month, and Fineron, whose pants were nearly pulled off while she was being dragged. Fineron was taken to the hospital with leg injuries, one of which is an open sore high on her thigh approximately four inches-by-five inches around. She, and the others, have been charged with refusal to disperse and are due to appear in court on April 10.
“No one was planning to do any civil disobedience; it was a beautiful day up until that,” Durland said.
The arrests occurred just after start of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Colorado Springs on Saturday. The group were marching with the bookmobile owned by Verlo, a well-known peace activist. Verlo had obtained a $15 permit to participate in the parade, but apparently, though the participants say they did nothing more than wear T-shirts with peace signs and carry peace banners with messages like “Kids Not Bombs,” they were told after the parade started that they were unwelcome.
“There were City Council candidates and the Knights of Columbus,” Durland said. “We were just wearing peace sweaters and green T-shirts with white peace signs and carrying a banner that said ‘Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission’ and then someone came running up at an intersection and told us to leave. He didn’t identify himself, and he started pushing people around and he must have called the police because they came pretty fast.”
Parade organizer John O’Donnell told the Colorado Springs Gazette that political candidates could participate in the parade, but people with opinions on “social issues” could not. Colorado Springs police said that they plan to review the chain of events, but said they were forced to act when the protesters refused to follow orders to leave the parade route.
“Peace was too controversial for the parade,” said Jim White, the interim director of the PPJPC and the retired pastor at Colorado Springs’ First Congregational Church. “I didn’t get to see what happened, but I talked to people at church this morning and they said it was horrible. People were crying, children were crying.
“It was clearly police brutality. The people I talked to just couldn’t believe what happened.”
Many of the participants who were walking with the Bookman bookmobile indeed dispersed when the police appeared and ordered them to do so. But those who didn’t leave, White noted, were “mainly the people most trained in non-violence.”
“They went limp,” he said.
Durland says it all happened so fast that few understood what was happening. He called the officers’ response “shock and awe.”
“The whole thing would have been avoided,” says Durland, if someone would have bothered to approach the parade participants and asked to see their permit. The cops, he said, didn’t seem to realize that they were not rogue interlopers, but were marching with a group that had, indeed, been issued a permit by parade organizers.
“There was so much excessive force you wouldn’t believe it,” said Durland, who, in addition to being arrested, was treated at the scene for high blood pressure.
On Sunday, White said he, along with 75 others from the First Congregational Church, gathered for a prayer service at the street corner where the arrests occurred nearly 24 hours earlier.
Photos reprinted with permission. At top: Activist Elizabeth Fineron. This page: Eric Verlo after being handcuffed and arrested.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.