Gatherers: Treatment unfair

The Steamboat Pilot, Colorado/June 22, 2006
By Alexis DeLaCruz

Clark — Members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light say they are being unfairly targeted by law enforcement officers monitoring their campsite in Big Red Park in North Routt County.

A confrontation between the two sides reached a boiling point Tuesday when Rainbow gatherers began throwing sticks and rocks at U.S. Forest Service officers stationed at a checkpoint near the campsite. Rainbow Family members say the officers drew their weapons and threatened to shoot gatherers' pets during the hour-long incident.

"I had a shotgun or AK (semi-automatic weapon) poin?--ted at my chest. (The officers) kept saying, ‘We're going to shoot your (expletive) dog.' They made this woman cry -- she was shaking," said Lobo, a Rainbow Family member.

"They tried to trample us with their horses, and all we did was have our arms up in peace," he said. "I even pulled my pants down -- which was probably indecent exposure -- to show them I didn't have anything on me. We're here with love and peace."

Denise Ottaviano, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, confirmed that officers drew their weapons, but she said they did so only because the group was threatening officers and throwing objects at them.

"These officers were surrounded by a hostile group of about 200 people. Some of our officers did take out their guns, but they put them away and left," she said.

The incident began after Forest Service officers began issuing citations to group members for not having a special-use permit to camp on the national forest land. Officers also warned people trying to enter the gathering site that they would receive citations.

The incident ended when the officers abandoned the checkpoint. Ottaviano said there were no further incidents Tuesday night or Wednesday.

"Last night was pretty quiet, and (Wednesday) went pretty well," she said.

Officers are issuing citations because the Forest Service req?--uires that groups of 75 or more people sign a free special-use permit to camp on forest land.

But Teryani, a Rainbow Fam?--ily member, said law enforcement officers don't understand that no single person can sign the permit because there are no official event organizers or leaders of the Rainbow Family.

"There is no hierarchy here. There is not one single person here to take responsibility for us. Part of our spiritual commitment to being here is that we are all equal," said Teryani, who, like most Rainbow Family members, goes by only one name.

"There really is a rationale behind it. It's not just hippy-dippy stuff, or ‘Let's screw the cops,'" she said. "We cannot and will not have any one person sign anything for us."

Regardless, Ottaviano said the group members are not above the law and will continue to be cited for any violations.

Kelly, another Rainbow Fam?--ily member, said the citations are ridiculous.

"I've been here since Saturday, and I've already received three (citations). Look, I'm sick of being harassed. Just because I'm in the middle of the woods with a group of people doesn't mean I don't have a job, that I don't have a family and that I don't contribute to society," she said.

Ottaviano said the Forest Service officers have issued about 100 citations to members since officers started handing out the citations Monday. Officers also have made several arrests, though Ottaviano did not know exactly how many members had been arrested.

GG, a Rainbow Family elder who said he was given the first citation, said he has been "scared" since Monday. Tuesday's incident didn't help.

"All they had to do was get a bullhorn and say, ‘We've got guns.' They shouldn't have pulled out their guns, that's not kosher, man," he said. "They just went haywire."

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