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Standoff continues at fur store
Protest - Pickets continue and, with no mediation in sight, both sides dig in
June 22, 2006
SPENCER HEINZ

The planned mediation never started. Another arrest occurred last week. Fur-sale picketers continue to show up Saturdays, showering store patrons with chants of "Shame on you!" Recently, at least two police officers have tried to keep heads cool at a weekly cost to the city of as much as $600.

This fur-protest scene has played out for more than seven months in front of an 111-year-old downtown Portland store, Schumacher Furs & Outerwear at Southwest Ninth Avenue and Morrison Street. All sides have dug in with no settlement in sight.

"I think we're in this for the long run," says Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson. Among reasons for the long view: Even on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, when the weather was uninviting and the store was closed for the holiday, protesters showed up.

"That's an indication to me of their commitment to this issue," Benson said.

After citing seven people in the last four months on accusations ranging from spitting to resisting arrest, police last Saturday made the latest arrest -- a Northeast Portland resident who allegedly knocked down a protestor after demonstrators exchanged insults with him. The police report said a woman's knee was scratched in the incident, and she complained of a sore neck. They cited the man, who store owner Gregg Schumacher said was not a customer, for disorderly conduct and harassment.

Although minor, such incidents feed the city's fears of escalation between the protesters and the store's employees and patrons. A mayor's spokesman still hopes for city-sponsored mediation, but Schumacher says not to count on that.

"I still believe that if we can get the two of them to come and speak together in a neutral environment. I really do believe that will make a difference," Maria Rubio, Mayor Tom Potter's policy manager for public safety, said Wednesday.

"There's nothing to mediate about," Schumacher responded. He has accused protesters of making death threats against store employees and his family, and he said the mayor and police were failing to protect public safety.

Matt Roselle, with In Defense of Animals, said Schumacher paints protesters with too broad a brush and that he still looks forward to the chance to mediate.

"The worst that could happen is we could waste an hour or two of our time," Roselle said. "Or something good could come of it." The protests started after Schumacher Furs moved to its present location in November. Occasionally the chanting gets loud and is laced with profanities. At one point, City Commissioner Randy Leonard and police officials said the Schumachers sometimes inflamed the situation.

Schumacher says he resists mediation for at least a couple of reasons: his belief that a Roselle-proposed consumer-warning label on furs would be untruthful and inaccurate, and that Roselle cannot control or speak for every protester who shows up. Some, Schumacher says, hold to the views of the Animal Liberation Front, which he describes as "terrorist" in nature.

In April, Schumacher filed a notice of intent to sue police for what he saw as a failure to respond properly to complaints during the protests. This month, a midweek theft of his wife's purse from the store left the family upset when police did not immediately respond to the store's 9-1-1 calls. A Washington County resident, Schumacher said he finally called the Washington County Sheriff's office to ask them to call Portland police.

A police spokeswoman said later that because the suspect already had taken off, and because no one initially knew the suspect's identity, the case became a lower priority for follow-up. Schumacher says it was left up to his employees to track down the purse, which was found missing his wife's wallet with credit cards and money. Schumacher added that he was concerned that the suspect might be connected with protesters.

Lt. Todd Wyatt of the Central Precinct said police arrested a transient on June 16 in Pioneer Courthouse Square in connection with the theft. Wyatt said the theft had no apparent link to the protest. Schumacher contended that his employees recognized her from protests.

Wyatt said it was important to protect the store's ability to operate and the freedom of speech for people on all sides. People cross the line, he said, if they start to hit or push.

"They just need to keep their hands to themselves," Wyatt said.

"I feel that we're doing everything we can to protect everyone's rights," Benson added.

Schumacher disagreed.

"What I'd like to talk about," Schumacher said, "is how many arrests they haven't made."

Spencer Heinz: 503-221-8072; spencerheinz@news.oregonian.com