Mock funeral adds new twist to war protest

By Will Scheff

A different kind of war protest marched through Oakland late Thursday afternoon, giving… A different kind of war protest marched through Oakland late Thursday afternoon, giving rush-hour commuters something to gawk at on their way home.

Large numbers of police officers circled the block around the Cathedral of Learning with lights flashing, monitoring the gathering of about 75 people, who silently and solemnly walked as a mock funeral procession to acknowledge those who have been killed in Iraq.

Carrying two empty coffins at the head of the group, the marchers stopped at the University of Pittsburgh sign at Fifth and Bellefield avenues, where the “Raging Grannies,” an organization of elderly women for peace, sang a song. One young man came in makeup that made it look as if his head had been blown open, and a friend wore a T-shirt that read, “I was killed by American bombs.”

Some of the marchers covered their faces with bandanas, but said they didn’t expect any trouble, a sentiment that was echoed by several police officers.

Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizens’ Police Review Board, shadowed the protesters and police.

“The first march didn’t go so well,” Pittinger said. “There were lots of police from different areas involved. The Pittsburgh police have their issues with that march,” Pittinger continued. But she also said, “As long as the Pittsburgh police are the dominant force, it’s fine.”

Pittinger referred to a march about a week ago that ended with a clash between Edgewood and Swissvale police and several protesters. She said that everything went smoothly until the marchers were out of Pittsburgh police jurisdiction.

The March 20 incident involved some of the protesters who marched on Thursday.

Jonas Moffat, of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, told fellow marchers that he was “brutalized” while in custody at the county jail. Charged with failure to disperse and blocking public passage, Moffat passed around letters condemning the conduct of police and collected signatures on a letter that urged the charges be dropped.

“They claimed that they told us to disperse,” Moffat said, “but when you tried to leave, you were beaten and arrested.”

Moffat’s trial is set for April 11, and he and his ACLU-appointed lawyer are considering bringing a civil suit against the county policeman who allegedly “banged” Moffat’s head off the wall of his cell for having a “smirk on my face.”

Other groups in attendance at Thursday’s “funeral march” were the Thomas Merton Center, the Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG), and Physicians for Social Problems, whose program director, Dr. Daniel Fine, explained why he and other prominent Pittsburgh physicians such as Dr. Manmohan Singh Luthra are against the war.

“This is becoming the human medical public health disaster that we feared from the beginning,” Fine said. “You have a huge number of displaced refugees who have no fresh water. People in Southern Iraq are drinking from mud puddles, which can lead to large outbreaks of dysentery and cholera. We’d like to see the war end as soon as possible, and the abandonment of this method of dealing with political problems.”