17 Antiwar Protesters Arrested

Times Staff Writer

Seventeen people staging a "die-in" demonstration against a potential U.S. war against Iraq were arrested Thursday morning in downtown Los Angeles.

The protest in front of the Federal Building was small, consisting of about 40 peace activists, 40 police officers and 40 members of the media.

The arrests were made after the activists lay down on the sidewalk next to cardboard caskets, a symbolic act intended to convey what could happen to soldiers and Iraqi citizens if a war occurs.

When the protesters refused to move, Los Angeles police officers carefully -- sometimes even apologetically -- handcuffed the demonstrators and put them on a bus to Parker Center, where they were booked on charges of blocking a public sidewalk.

"This war goes against everything I believe in as an American," said Shiva Rose McDermott, 29, of Brentwood, wife of film and television actor Dylan McDermott and one of those arrested. "I just couldn't stay at home and listen to more of the rhetoric from the Bush administration. I believe this is all about oil."

The protesters had assembled at the Los Angeles Mall and then marched about 100 yards to the sidewalk in front of the Federal Building -- even waiting for the walk sign before crossing Los Angeles Street.

Waiting for them in front of the building were LAPD and federal police officers, about 20 of them dressed in riot gear.

The protesters had met a day earlier with LAPD Capt. Charlie Beck and told him they planned to be arrested. Beck explained the procedure and received assurances it would be a peaceful demonstration.

Sgt. George Santos of the federal police explained that the protesters were not allowed on federal property because they didn't have a permit and were blocking access to a federal building.

The protesters took up their positions on the sidewalk next to their coffins as Bert Newton, a minister with the Pasadena Mennonite Church, read aloud a "Litany for the Casualties of War."

"It is said that truth is the first casualty of war," Newton said. "The U.S. government's most secret weapon against the Iraqi people is a whole cadre of myths."

When Newton finished, there was some singing and then Capt. Beck used a bullhorn to order the group to disperse. When the first bullhorn failed to produce a sound, he was brought a second one, which was equally useless.

"You're trying to wage a war on terror but you can't get a bullhorn" that works, yelled Leone Sandra Hankey, 49, of Los Angeles. She was on hand to support the protesters.

As the demonstrators were gingerly handcuffed by the LAPD, a long line of people waiting to get into the Federal Building and deal with immigration matters watched the scene unfold. Some of the people had been there since 5 a.m.

"Well, it's better than China," said Carly Wong, a student at UC Santa Barbara who is from Hong Kong and was seeking to extend a student visa.

"At least they had the chance to say something before they were arrested."

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