Health Care Vigil in Thousand Oaks: Provocation to violent response

by Karoli on September 3, 2009 · 932 comments

Yes, I was at the health care vigil tonight in Thousand Oaks. Yes, I saw what happened, though it was from across a very large street. I can’t tell you who said what to who, but I will tell you what the mood was, what I saw, who instigated things, and what I photographed.

What I won’t do: I won’t publish the pictures I took of the confrontation. I didn’t capture anything other than the people in various states of verbal confrontation, and I have turned those over to the police. Because they are investigating, I won’t compromise it by publishing those pictures unless and until they give me permission. I will, however, publish my other photos which will include some taken before this incident occurred.

There were around 150 supporters of health care reform present on the northeast corner of Lynn Road and Hillcrest in Thousand Oaks. I was one of them. To get to that corner, we had to park in the Oaks Mall parking lot, walk to the light, cross a small thruway and then cross Hillcrest, which is a very large street.[photo here looking across to those opposed, posted in real time before the incident].

In order to get from the parking lot to the vigil, we were required to walk through the group of people opposed to health care reform. As you can see in the photo, they were originally staged right before the crosswalk to the thruway, so there was no way to avoid walking through their group.

The mood on our side of the street was passionate, happy, and dedicated. There were no violent words spoken. For the most part, we were supported loudly by passers-by, who honked their horns and waved their support. When someone passed by who disagreed, we actually had conversations with them while they waited for the light.

To be clear here: There were no threats, no dark moods, and there was no mob. I repeat, there was no mob. We were peaceful people holding candles and signs.

One petite woman was also handing out single payer flyers. She was passionate about it, but not rude, not mean, always smiled, and simply offered the flyer. At some point, she crossed back over (she may have run out of her flyer supply. I don’t know for sure. But she was not in any way confrontational.)

All of a sudden, I saw a very tall man in an orange shirt (yes, he is in the photo I linked you to) confront her, verbally at first. Her back was to the thruway, and he was shooing her, approaching her, speaking to her in a very aggressive fashion (observation from body language only) and waving his arms in a shooing motion. With each step she took back, he took one forward, shooing her more. From where I was, it appeared as though he were telling her to get on her own side of the street, and backing it up with a very clear physical threat. Even from where I stood, it chilled me. I pointed it out to others and called out for anyone with a video camera to aim it over there. (I had a small Nikon cam with me that does video, but it would have been useless in that light.)

Ultimately, she did cross the street and come back over to our side.

Several minutes later, there was another altercation. My best recollection is that this man saw what happened to the woman and reacted to it. I cannot say with certainty where he was when he saw it — he may have arrived and was navigating his way through that group, or he may have crossed the street to defend her. He was confronted by the same man. I could tell from where I was that the man was belligerent, angry, and confrontational.

The man in the orange shirt hit the pro-reform guy (I’m going to call him PR Guy just to keep the players straight). Hard. (tweeted in real time) He punched him in the face, knocked him to the ground and into that thruway. As you can see from the photo, cars drive straight through that without stopping. The pro-reform guy could have been run over. He got up, tried to get back up on the curb, but Orange Shirt guy was in his face. Finger in his face, PR Guy standing, steps up to the curb, and there’s a scuffle. Orange shirt seemed to have PR Guy in a hold, but again, I was across the street, so won’t state that as absolute fact. Next thing I see is PR Guy’s hat being tossed into the street, both yelling at one another, then Orange shirt walks away, PR Guy picks up hat and crosses to our side.

When he gets to our side, he tells a story in one sentence: “He punched me hard, straight in the face, so I bit his finger off.”

Honestly, I thought he was exaggerating. I guess he wasn’t.

I’ve given this report to the police along with my photos. I am not heralding anyone as a hero here. I certainly do not celebrate the idea of anyone biting anyone else, no matter what the reason. However, there is no question that Orange Shirt guy was aching to fight, was willing to pick a fight, and certainly didn’t care who he fought with. He chose people who were shorter than he, and he used his voice, his body, his body language and his height to intimidate them.

Don’t be fooled by reports ginning up sympathy for that 65-year old guy or worse yet, reports characterizing him as a senior citizen. He was aggressive and ready to mix it up.

I’ll tell you more about the other hour and 15 minutes of peace, wonderful people, and stories in another post. This one is for the benefit of those who might want to hear a different side of what is sure to hit the air as a one-sided story of liberals gone wild. There were no liberals gone wild, nor were there hordes of conservatives behaving badly. There were 9 or 10 people on one corner, 150-200 on the other, and two men who, regardless of their politics, behaved quite badly.

Update: LA Times has it a bit wrong. So does KTLA.

Update: KTLA and LATimes have updated their stories.

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