Across the country, well-funded right wing activists are turning town hall meetings into battlegrounds in an attempt to derail the Obama administration’s health care reform agenda.
Small groups of protesters have shouted down lawmakers. One congressman received a death threat. Police confirmed yesterday that a protester “dropped” a gun during a meet ‘n greet with Rep. Danielle Giffords (D‑AZ) at a Safeway in Douglas, AZ last week.
Facing a PR disaster over threats and outbursts by their followers, anti-reform leaders are attempting to scapegoat organized labor for town hall disruptions.
On August 6, tempers flared outside a town hall meeting in St. Louis county. Hundreds of people packed a local school to talk healthcare and senior’s issues with Rep. Russ Carnahan.
Six people were arrested after a scuffle involving SEIU members and anti-reform protesters. It’s not clear what led to the clash, which occurred outside the meeting after the congressman had already left.
The videographer appears to have happened upon the last nine seconds of a minor altercation on the sidewalk. The tape doesn’t show how the scuffle started. We do see the SEIU member, identifiable by his t‑shirt, prostrate on the pavement.
About six seconds into the clip, a figure in a beige t‑shirt and khaki pants with his back to the camera falls on his butt and immediately gets up and moves out of frame. It’s unclear clear what caused him to fall. Nobody appears to be punching or kicking anyone.
A few seconds later, we see a black man in a beige polo shirt and khakis darting around, trying to convince various police officers that he’s been attacked.
The man, later identified as 38-year-old conservative activist, Ken Gladney, doesn’t look savagely beaten: Gladney has no visible injuries and his light-colored clothes are clean and intact. At one point, he stops to exchange a few words with the videographer before trying to flag down a police car.
Lawyer Dan Brown later claimed to have seen SEIU members punching his client in the face and kicking him in the head.
The St. Louis County police cannot confirm whether the video is authentic or whether it shows what various parties claim to see in it. After the arrests, the police asked witnesses to come forward with statements, video, or photos of the incident.
“We have no idea the source of the video,” Officer Rick Eckhard, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police, told In These Times, “If someone wants to come and say “that this is my video…” Otherwise, it’s just speculation. We haven’t received it.”
Officer Eckhard said police investigators are preparing a report for the county council’s office. The council will decide whether there’s enough evidence to issue arrest warrants.
SEIU Local 2000 declined to comment on the town hall incident.
An op/ed in the yesterday’s Washington Times called SEIU members at grim-faced purple shirts and accused the union’s leadership of dispatching members to intimidate anti-reform protesters.
SEIU members have not been dispatched to town halls in reaction to the protesters. The members are attending the meetings as part of SEIU’s Change That Works campaign, a major legislative action unveiled in January to push for healthcare reform and the Employee Free Choice Act.
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