Fur flies at weekly protests
Animal-rights rallies strain ties between cops, business owners
By JIM REDDEN
Mar 28, 2006
Portland Police Bureau Central Precinct Cmdr. Dave Benson has suggested that the Schumacher Fur & Outerwear Co. move out of downtown because of weekly animal rights protests at its Southwest Eighth Avenue and Morrison Street store.www.indymedia.org, a local Web site used by various activists to promote their causes.
In a March 23 e-mail to Commissioner Randy Leonard, Benson said that the store owned by Gregg and Linda Schumacher may be better suited for a suburban mall, such as Bridgeport Village in Tualatin.
"Actually, one of the solutions is for them to relocate to a boutique type of mall (Bridgeport Village). In that setting the owners will probably be able to lawfully control the protests inside the mall and keep it outside on the sidewalk. The protesters would quickly lose interest. The Schumachers won’t like that solution, either, but they may not have much of a choice," Benson wrote in an e-mail.
Since last November, dozens of demonstrators have been staging noisy protests outside the store every Saturday afternoon. The goal is to drive the store out of business, says regular participant Matt Rossell, Northwest outreach coordinator of In Defense of Animals, a national animal rights organization.
"Portland is a city with a love of animals. It has no business having a full-scale fur salon here," Rossell said.
Leonard asked Benson for information about the protests after receiving an earlier e-mail from Linda Schumacher accusing the protesters of repeatedly breaking the law by threatening to kill her and Gregg, assaulting their employees and blocking access to their store.
The Schumachers are shocked by Benson’s suggestion.
"The Schumacher family has sold fur in Portland for 111 years. We’ve never closed our store, not even during the Depression," Gregg Schumacher said.
After receiving Benson’s reply, Leonard e-mailed Linda Schumacher back to say he believes she and Gregg are partly to blame for the situation. According to Benson’s e-mail to Leonard, the Schumachers have disregarded police advice to temporarily close their store on Saturday — and have instead argued with the protesters and mocked them with signs posted in their store windows.
"Neither the police bureau nor my office can assist you if you are not willing to accept our advice on a strategy that helps us help you cause the protesters to lose interest in targeting your business," Leonard wrote.
The Schumachers denied doing anything wrong.
"Have I sworn at them? After they’ve stood outside the store and sworn at me at the top of their lungs. But we’re not breaking any laws — they are," Linda Schumacher said.
Convinced that the police could and should do more to protect them and their business, the Schumachers have reserved time to present their case to the City Council at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 5. They are urging neighboring business owners and managers to join them, saying the protests are hurting all the surrounding businesses.
The Schumachers’ complaints come at a time when Portland is struggling to retain its downtown businesses. There are many retail vacancies in the city core. The council is supporting TriMet’s controversial plan to overhaul the transit mall in the hopes of revitalizing Fifth and Sixth avenues by adding light rail and a full car through-lane from Union Station to Portland State University.
But according to the Schumachers, the council will not be able to reverse the exodus until it starts paying more attention to the existing businesses.
"We’re already looking at Beaverton for our next store," Gregg Schumacher said.
New store gets noticed
The Schumachers moved the store to its present location in November, shortly before a yearly ritual for animal rights activists — the annual Fur Free Friday march through downtown that takes place the day after Thanksgiving.
During the event, marchers stop and protest outside several stores that sell fur. After seeing the Schumachers’ new store, several marchers decided to begin staging weekly protests there.
"The weekly protests began organically. People just decided they needed to come back and do more," Rossell said.
From around noon to 5 p.m. every Saturday, dozens of people gather outside the store. Some wave signs denouncing fur sales. Others line up in front of the store and chant insults at the Schumachers and their customers. A few dress up as animals and roll around on the sidewalk, pretending they are being killed. A portable television set shows videos the protesters claim prove that animals are treated and killed inhumanely for their fur.
According to the Schumachers, some of the protest tactics clearly violate the law. They claimed demonstrators have followed them when they leave the store, threatening to kill them and burn down their home. They say similar threats against them were posted and then removed from
To the Schumachers, these more sinister tactics are part of a national trend of increasingly dangerous animal rights protests. They noted that federal prosecutors recently convicted an animal rights group and six activists of terrorism and Internet stalking. The March 5 convictions were the first to come under the Animal Enterprise Terror Act, enacted by Congress in 1992.
As the Schumachers see it, the protests outside their store will continue escalating unless the police take more aggressive actions to limit them.
"If the police had enforced the law at the beginning, things would not have gotten out of hand," Linda Schumacher said.
Drive-bys called ineffective
Although the Schumachers have repeatedly met with Benson and other city officials since shortly after the protests began, they do not believe the police are taking their situation seriously.
They said the police only occasionally drive or walk by the demonstrations; they said the protesters behave themselves during those short intervals and then become more threatening after the officers pass by. The Schumachers said that protesters have screamed obscenities at them, entered their store and harassed customers coming and going to their shop, but the police have arrested only three protesters on relatively minor charges in the past five months — two for criminal trespass and criminal mischief, and one for harassment of a police officer.
Rossell denied that any protesters have broken the law, accusing the Schumachers of exaggerating their behavior. He said that legal observers from the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center frequently watch the protests to make sure they do not get out of hand. The two arrested protesters have pleaded not guilty and have not yet gone to trial.
In his e-mail to Leonard, Benson said he has witnessed some of the protests and believed the demonstrators are acting within their First Amendment rights.
"My own personal contact with the protesters and the contact had by my sergeants is that they are generally very nice people that have very strong views about selling fur," Benson wrote.
In his e-mail, Benson said the Schumachers should close the store for a series of Saturdays, place dark shades over the outer entry doors and remove all references to fur from the display windows.
The Schumachers rejected such steps as potentially hurting their sales.
"If we close on Saturday, we might as well close for good. We’re a retail business," Linda Schumacher said.
Benson also said he had suggested going to court and obtaining a restraining order against the protesters, something the Lovejoy Clinic did to thwart anti-abortion protesters years ago. Linda Schumacher said they contacted the clinic after receiving the suggestion for advice on the measure, only to learn that obtaining the order cost the clinic $100,000 in attorneys’ fees.
"We don’t have that kind of money," she said.