Protesters, Police Clash at Presidential Debate

Stephanie Fail

Ten veterans and five other protesters were arrested and several people seriously injured when hundreds of people, including UMass Boston students and members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), clashed with police before the October 15 presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

UMB anti-war activist Megan Day and veteran Mike Spinnato were among those arrested at the beginning of the march. IVAW members, student organizers from the national Campus Action Network (CAN), and other supporters of the anti-war movement attempted to send representatives into the debate in order to ask each candidate a question regarding the funding of veterans’ benefits and the legality of the Iraq War.

After the small group of veterans and citizens were peacefully arrested, Nassau County police began pushing the crowd back across the six-lane highway, using a combination of mounted police on horses and a line of approximately 60 cops in full riot gear. The horses were at the front of the crowd with officers directing them to turn in circles, repelling protesters.

At the front of the conflict stood UMB student and veteran Carlos Harris, where he and several uniformed members of IVAW were repeatedly knocked over by the horses. The police used the riot squad and mounted officers to surround and push the crowd onto the sidewalk, thus pinning them against a fence. Officers then began to grab people from the crowd to arrest them. In response, the crowd tugged some of the arrestees back into the group. A police officer on horseback then charged onto the sidewalk into the crowd and reared his horse into a full circle, injuring five.

The most serious injury, suffered by former Army Sergeant Nick Morgan, occurred when the horse stepped on his eye socket, crushing his cheekbone and rendering him unconscious. Nassau County police then dragged him off to the truck with the other arrestees. After initially refusing Morgan medical attention, police sent him to the hospital for treatment.

According to Officer Burke of the Nassau Police Department, “We made 15 arrests. The presidential debate was a closed event, and it was controlled by the Secret Service.” About the sidewalk incident, Burke responded that she had “no knowledge of our department making a charge on the crowd. We closed down a six-lane highway, and [protesters] failed to comply with police officers. I understand there was one injury.”

That night at the hospital, doctors treated Morgan for a double fracture to his face and bruised ribs. They treated a Baltimore student, allied with the Campus Action Network, for an injured foot. Sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith, an IVAW member, alleges that officers and detectives taunted and harassed the still semi-conscious Morgan in front of the other arrestees after they were brought to the station.

According to a press release, the “Hempstead 15” will go on trial November 10th, 2008 for charges of disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order.