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Cops Put On Their Kid Gloves

On the morning of the biggest anti- abortion demonstration in Phoenix history, the prayerful, placard-bearing, demon-eyed enemies of abortion weren't the real story.

The real story was the complacent, glad-handing, slow-footed Phoenix police, who milled among the lawbreakers as though they'd stumbled into a party.

This came as a huge surprise to Dr. Brian Finkel, director of the Metro Phoenix Women's Center. It was to Finkel's gynecological clinic on West Maryland that more than 500 Project Rescue picketers made their hysterical pilgrimage on January 21.

They came with the same old props--posters, Bibles, hymns, enough different chants to found an offshoot of Buddhism--and some new ones in the forms of bicycle locks and chains. A few of the more enterprising protesters chained themselves together at the neck and barricaded the clinic's doors, impassive as the Rockies.

Even the chains didn't startle Finkel. It's hard to imagine that any act committed by an anti-abortionist could stun one of the most hardened soldiers in the Arizona pro-choice war. He thinks he knows their kind through and through and, given the slightest excuse, he is prepared to describe their collective unconscious for you. "They are angry individuals who cannot vent their anger. . . . Most of them are unhappy with themselves," he says. "They have to find a cause they can give themselves to. They say, `Look at all those people, they are murdering babies. Aren't they monsters?'"

Not even violence startled him. As the tension-filled day wound on, demonstrators invaded Finkel's clinic and shoved him against a wall, injuring two fingers on his left hand before the police intervened. The hand is still taped, and Finkel wears the tape as proudly as though it were the result of heroism in battle.

Finkel cannot, however, get over his surprise at the actions of the Phoenix Police Department.

Who could?
Who could explain that the boys in blue were seen in the clinic parking lot shaking hands and socializing with Arizona's most notorious pro-life leader, attorney John J. Jakubczyk, just prior to inviting him to leave rather than be arrested?

Jakubczyk, a vice president of Arizona Right to Life, has such a history for criminal trespass and harassment of abortion facilities that the A to Z Women's Center has had an injunction sworn out against him. He is so committed to the cause that his name has shown up in connection with more than one offbeat lawsuit, including one that's pending against Finkel, wherein Jakubczyk represents a woman who may sue for the doctor's refusal to return her fetal remains to her. In 1985, Jakubczyk helped Joseph Scheidler, national leader of the Pro-Life Action League, orchestrate a countrywide pressure campaign against abortion facilities. (The movement caused so much consternation to clinics that it picked up the nickname "The Year of Pain and Fear.") Finkel, of course, is well aware of Jakubczyk and was pointing him out spiritedly to the officers, asking that the barrister be arrested for tramping onto private property. He figured that Jakubczyk's legal advice and encouragement were helping whip the demonstrators into their frenzy. In meetings held with clinic leaders before the demonstration took place, the police had told Finkel to point out the protesters he wanted arrested, so Finkel pointed with a lot of confidence. But the police refused to follow through. Spokesman Andy Anderson of the police department says this was because the police were authorized only to haul away the folks who blocked the doors, not just anybody Finkel fingered who was wandering around in the parking lot. The parking lot, even though it's posted as private property, is an area shared with other businesses, and Finkel could lawfully command jurisdiction only over his clinic's immediate access, says Anderson.

And as for handshaking and jawboning with Jakubczyk, Anderson thinks that might have been just an outgrowth of his police officers' naturally outgoing personalities. "I know that our supervisors have tried to meet with both sides and maintain cordial relationships with both sides, and it would not surprise me to see our officers shaking hands with both sides," he says.

I hope that the officers' profession of friendship for Jakubczyk didn't hurt Finkel's feelings. He and the police had met twice prior to the demonstration and Finkel felt, perhaps presumptuously, that he and they were acquainted. And yet none of the officers engaged in chitchat with him or shook his hand that day.

The only thing that happened to Finkel's hand was somebody sprained it.
This is not to say that, in the past, the police had never held meaningful conversations with Arizona's pro-choice advocates. Gloria Feldt, the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, remembers some pretty startling exchanges as early as 1987, when local abortion clinics were gearing up for protests they expected as outgrowths of the Pope's visit. When their anticipated need for protection was expressed to the police, an officer suggested to Feldt that if she closed for the day, the entire situation could be avoided. There seemed to be no understanding that acquiescing to the pro-life minions would set a terrible precedent for Planned Parenthood. No understanding that Planned Parenthood has every right to offer its scheduled services to the public, regardless of its enemies' activities. No understanding that the role of the police is to maintain the peace when citizens collide, not to request an organization change its ways so that law enforcement officials may avoid a confrontation. Over in the office of the chief of police, these understandings have not been evolving since 1987, either. Spokesman Anderson admits that the police have mentioned in the past that abortion clinics could sidestep demonstrations by closing their doors on days they know demonstrations will occur. "I think that in any brainstorming session you should be able to kick around any idea," he says in defense of the suggestion. "The decision was up to the clinics."

Anderson is hedging: The desire to do away with these demonstrations altogether is much more than an "idea" to the police--it's a preference. When pro-choice leaders met last week with Police Chief Ruben Ortega to protest his officers' lazy handling of the January 21 demonstration, Feldt asked Ortega directly what he'd like to see happen in the future as the inevitable demonstrations continue. She says that he replied immediately, "Why don't you just close?"

And so, Finkel shouldn't have been surprised that officers who didn't want to be at the protest kept behaving as if they weren't there.

He should not have been surprised, for instance, at the foot-dragging. Protesters had the place surrounded by 7 a.m., he says. The police, who knew from their meetings with the pro-life bunch that the event was coming, had assured Finkel they'd try to keep his doors clear. They said they were going to start patrolling the neighborhood by 4 a.m. And yet the seventy officers didn't even begin to arrest anybody until after eight o'clock. "The prison buses aren't here yet, Dr. Finkel, it's going to be awhile, so please be patient," Finkel says he was told.

When the buses finally trundled up, it took another three and a half hours for the police to get the doors passable. Pro-choice leaders think this was, in part, because so much time was wasted trying to strike up a deal with protesters who were breaking the law.

Reed Oken, chief financial officer for Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, overheard officers offer to forego arrest for protesters who didn't have any I.D. with them. Later, he overheard officers warn that if the protesters hadn't cleared out by noon, they'd go to jail.

And they really meant it that time, you know?
(Sergeant Anderson says there was no such waffling--says it even though pro-life leader Jakubczyk himself describes the way the police offered to cite and release the protesters who left by noon. The officers said the other demonstrators would have to go to jail, says Jakubczyk.

(Jakubczyk is very satisfied with the long and patient way the Phoenix PD negotiated with his people.)

(Anderson also indicates the time delays were unavoidable: "It takes a long time to arrest 180 people; you can't do that in 30 minutes." But in their private meeting with Feldt last week, she says, the police acknowledged "they were not as organized as they could have been in dealing with the situation, so that they dealt with it slowly.")

Maybe delays and inattention weren't even the worst of it. The most thought-provoking moments of all occurred at the hands of officers who were downright hostile, according to Feldt. As she and about 200 other supporters of choice marched in a counterdemonstration across the street from the clinic, Feldt was nonplused by the barbs her group inspired in peace officers who were standing nearby. "They started making all these sarcastic and snide comments, like it was our fault that these people were demonstrating over there," she remembers. "That if we would just dry up and blow away that this would not be happening."

This charge concerns Anderson, and he wants to make assurances: "Our officers are human and they have their own opinions, but they are neutral [at these demonstrations]."

What a relief. Having waylaid those fears, Anderson goes on a little bit about the dynamics of demonstrations. "Obviously we haven't had a lot [of experience with civil disobedience] in Phoenix," he explains. In recent years, there have been a couple of demonstrations by the handicapped, who wanted wheelchair lifts installed in buses, and these abortion brouhahas, and that's about it. Which is fine with the police. "It's a situation we would rather not be involved in," Anderson says. "It is a very difficult situation for the officers to be in: They have to carry people to the bus."

Feldt can be even more specific about the deepest fears of the delicate Phoenix PD, the ones that cause them to dread lugging demonstrators to the bus. In her private meetings with the police, she says, "we keep hearing about them straining their backs.

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Deborah Laake