Peaceful demonstrations

Orderly pickets, sidelined Mids make for few disruptions outdoors

Outside the talks

Annapolis Mideast Conference

November 28, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,SUN REPORTER

They sang and danced to the strumming of a guitar. Some demonstrators gripped signs that they had carried on buses and planes from Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

In intimate conversations, they embraced their ideological allies. And with impassioned speech that turned to shouts, they challenged their foes.

They waved flags for Israel, for America and for peace.

Hundreds of protesters - with disparate views on politics, religion and foreign policy - congregated outside the main gates of the Naval Academy yesterday to demonstrate during the Annapolis peace conference.

Despite the volume of the protesters, and the crush of journalists, diplomats and police in and around the academy, Annapolis officials reported few disruptions. Even midshipmen, virtually quarantined throughout the day, were more amused than inconvenienced. And fears of traffic congestion went largely unrealized. Vehicles largely avoided the downtown area, preventing any sizable backups, said Kevin D. Freeman, a police spokesman.

"Overall, it was a pretty quiet time," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. "Yes, we did have some demonstrators, as expected. But quite frankly, sometimes we have a lot more demonstrators for the legislature than we had today. Because so many of the world leaders were here at one time there was a higher standard and it certainly tested our command and organization ability, and lifted it up a notch. But I think we did a good job. I think it was relatively peaceful and very quiet in town."

Even life in the homes around the academy continued as before. People walked their dogs. Some came outside to snap photos. The mail carrier came by, chewing blue gum and saying, "excuse me," as she squeezed by to drop an envelope in a resident's mailbox.

"The circus is in town," said Seth Applebaum, 21, an Annapolis resident who surveyed the scene of demonstrators. "There's a bunch of people yelling slogans at each other ... no attempt at rational dialogue at all."

Meanwhile, on the campus of the academy, the midshipmen were largely sidelined during the conference, but many still expressed pride.

"Everyone thinks it's a pretty neat thing, although I don't know if a lot of people appreciate the magnitude of what it means," said a midshipman who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the conference.

"That's probably because we've been kept away from everything. The president was speaking just [a short distance] from my room, but I'd never have known it if I wasn't watching TV."

Most midshipmen started class an hour early at about 7 a.m. and had six back-to-back sessions until 1 p.m., when they returned to their rooms and mostly stayed put throughout the day, having been advised of serious penalties for any disturbances. They picked up boxed lunches at their leisure.

Some Mids had to turn over their rooms for security teams, and others noticed scout sniper teams in various campus locations. Those whose windows faced Tecumseh Court, the giant courtyard outside the dormitory hall where most of the talks took place, had to close their windows and blinds throughout the day.

Still, those who peeked out saw the nearly 40 sport utility vehicles that escorted dignitaries in various motorcades.

Outside the gates, the crowd of demonstrators, who arrived in small groups from across the country and totaled about 200 people at the height of the rallies, had dispersed by mid-afternoon, according to police. No arrests were made.

City, county and state police stood watch as the protesters gathered at Randall and Prince George streets in downtown Annapolis. By mid-morning, about 50 demonstrators were milling about, holding signs proclaiming such mantras as "End the Occupation" and "`Israel' has no right to rule over any part of the Holy Land." Initially, the journalists outnumbered the protesters.

The crowd eventually swelled to a couple hundred people, fed in spurts by mostly small groups of people. Some were part of religious and political organizations, while others came on their own.

"I think it's important to be here, because one day if my children ever ask me where were you, what did you do. And that's the best thing about America," said Francine Lipstein, 47, of Bryn Mawr, Pa. "So there was no other place I could be today."

Lacking any real organization, most of the protesters spoke among themselves while small groups sang or chanted intermittently. At times, the scene was contentious, with individuals engaging in shouting matches.

Umer Farooq, 23, of Charles Village said he and four others who came to protest were detained for about an hour by Secret Service agents. He said they were patted down and their cars were inspected by bomb-sniffing dogs, actions he called "precautionary measures."

"There's all these pro-Israel groups here ... we thought we should come out and speak for the Palestinians that aren't here," said Farooq.

And soon it was over.

"Ladies and gentlemen ... It's 2 o'clock. The permit is over. It's time to disperse," said Capt. Wayne Darrell, of the Annapolis Police Department, who instructed the demonstrators to move off the street and onto the sidewalk. And with that, the protesters began to leave the area.

Many walked down toward Annapolis' City Dock, where some boarded buses to take them home. Others continued waving their signs from the sidewalk near the dock.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Bradley Olson contributed to this article.

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