Protest, Interrupted

People for Peace told to remove free-standing signs at its Sunday demonstration

With his regular anti-war protest at the corner of Kingston Pike and Neyland now in its third year, local activist Bob Grimac wants to know "why now?" Grimac says members of the Knoxville Police Department interrupted his small band of protesters during their April 27 demonstration, and forced the group to remove most of the signs members brought for the event.

"Over the previous 47 protests, police cars have passed at least four or five times per four-hour protest," Grimac says. "We're always clean, quiet, and orderly, and we always take down all our signs at the end of the protest."

Grimac and his People for Peace organization have been staging a regular protest against the war in Iraq every third Sunday since July of 2005, erecting and carrying signs at Kingston Pike and Neyland Drive. The signs bear messages such as "War is not pro-life," "Bush: War Criminal," "Bring Our Troops Home," and "Peace is Patriotic."

But on April 27 at around 11:30 a.m., after about an hour and a half of demonstrating, Grimac says he and his two fellow protesters (Grimac says the group averages five or six per outing) were told that they had to move a vehicle parked in close proximity to the protest, and that the group would be limited to only those signs which the three protesters could carry. Grimac says there were perhaps 20 free-standing signs, on sandwich boards and wire stands, which had to be taken down.

"The officer threatened to have my car towed; he said it was blocking the road, which wasn't true," Grimac says. "I was parked on a shoulder off Concord. He also made us take down all signs other than those in our hands. He said we were violating sign ordinances.

"The officer was gruff and a bit rude. He was not very pleasant at all. We were then limited to three signs for the three of us."

According to KPD Public Information Officer Darrell DeBusk, the car in question was parked on Concord. "It was in the roadway; it was obviously dangerous," he says. He says the protesters were also using the car as a mount for some of their signs.

As to the rest of the signs, DeBusk says they were blocking egress on the sidewalk along that portion of the street. "They weren't in compliance with the law," he says. "They were told they can protest to their heart's content, but they were limited in this instance to the signs they could carry."

Grimac says some of the signs were infringing on the sidewalk, but only by a few inches. Bill Dockery, a passer-by who witnessed the incident (and also a former MP editor) testifies that "the signs were mostly small, maybe 3'x3'. Some were on the sidewalk, but some weren't. And none of them completely blocked it."

DeBusk says he wasn't aware of any complaints about the sidewalk being blocked.

Despite the setback, Grimac says he's undaunted. "We're deciding what to do about the signs; we're looking into what our rights are," he says. "But we want our voice to be heard. We don't intend to stop protesting this illegal war and occupation or Iraq.

"We're definitely going to continue. We'll be there again May 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m."