Police Batons Blamed as UFW Official Is Badly Hurt During Bush S.F. Protest
Labor leaders and top city officials are demanding an investigation into police conduct at a protest in which United Farm Workers Vice President Dolores Huerta suffered two broken ribs and a ruptured spleen.
Huerta was injured Wednesday night when police forced demonstrators away from a hotel where Vice President George Bush was holding a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser, officials said Thursday.
Huerta, 58, a slight woman who is just over 5 feet tall, was in stable condition at San Francisco General Hospital after surgery to remove her spleen. Family members and UFW spokesmen said the injuries were caused by a baton-wielding police officer outside the St. Francis Hotel.
Mayor Art Agnos, a friend and political ally of Huerta’s for the last 20 years, declared that he “will not tolerate” misuse of police authority here. Agnos, who visited Huerta in the hospital, spoke with UFW President Cesar Chavez to assure him that the city will investigate fully.
“I want to know the exact cause of any police incident that results in someone being injured, whether or not that person is well-known,” Agnos said.
“To have something like this happen in San Francisco is really a shock,” said Lori Ybarra, 36, one of Huerta’s daughters, recalling that, in the 1960s, people here led efforts to bring food to striking farm workers in the Central Valley.
On Wednesday, roughly 1,000 protesters appeared outside the St. Francis Hotel where Bush was holding a fund-raiser for about 750 supporters. Huerta, mother of 11 children and grandmother of 10, went to the demonstration to protest Bush’s opposition, announced earlier on Wednesday, to the UFW’s table grape boycott.
Howard Wallace, national field representative of the UFW, and others who were at the protest said Huerta was injured when she and about 500 other protesters found themselves penned in by the facade of the hotel and police.
Wallace said that because of the large number of demonstrators, they could not move quickly when police demanded that they get away from the entrance. But in an effort to speed them up, officers jabbed at them with their batons.
“It was a totally unwarranted, brutal attack. This 110-pound woman did not take on the tac (tactical) squad,” Wallace said, adding that he was struck when police moved demonstrators away from the hotel entrance.
One of her sons, Emilio Huerta, said his mother’s injuries indicated that “she was hit a number of times.”
In a press conference on Thursday, Agnos, flanked by police officials, said he was able to identify Huerta in a police film of the demonstration and could see that she was moving in compliance with police instructions.
“If you read her lips, she is saying, ‘I am moving,’ ” Agnos said.
The mayor also said there was no indication on the two-hour film of how she suffered the injury, or whether it was caused by police.
Police Chief Frank Jordan said the 85 riot gear-clad officers at the scene followed proper procedure when they moved the demonstrators from the hotel entrance across from Union Square in downtown San Francisco.
Range of Protesters
As is the case in many demonstrations here, a wide variety of groups showed up to greet the Republican presidential nominee. They ranged from radical and rowdy leftists to AIDS activists to UFW members.
“There was a lot of yelling and taunting,” the police chief said, noting that there was “never even a thought” of arresting Huerta. “I didn’t see the unauthorized use of the baton.”
In a UFW-organized press conference outside San Francisco General, John F. Henning, executive secretary of the AFL-CIO for California, declared that the police “picked on the wrong person.”
“She is one of the heroines of the labor movement,” Henning said.
Another labor leader called for the police chief’s resignation, while San Francisco Supervisor Jim Gonzalez pledged to halt all police overtime pay until the investigation has been completed and Supervisor Harry Britt demanded a review of police policy on crowd control.
“Dolores Huerta didn’t provoke this,” Britt said. “She would no more do that than she would eat grapes.”
Huerta issued a statement before the demonstration condemning Bush’s stand on the table grape boycott, saying it “demonstrates again that he is wealthy and comfortable and insensitive to the struggles of working people.” The UFW contends that pesticides used on grapes threaten the health of farm laborers.
Huerta helped found the UFW with Chavez in 1964. Next to Chavez, she is the union’s prime motivating force.