Note: This article originally written for the Salem Monthly Newspaper
Oregon Peaceworks is a local non-profit organization who's stated mission is "to educate and activate people to work for peace, justice, and environmental protection". For many years Oregon Peaceworks has boldly addressed such complicated and controversial topics as war, militarism, nuclear weaponry, the devastating effects of nuclear waste on the environment, and have provided valuable guidance for those wishing to live in a more peaceful and environmentally friendly manner. From their downtown office on the corner of Commercial and State, Executive Director Peter Bergel organizes these efforts into a variety of projects ranging from peaceful demonstrations to their monthly newspaper 'The Peaceworker'. Unfortunately, by being such vocal challengers on the political stage, they have become a target for the opposition. Since the beginning of this year, their offices have been victim to increasing harassment by means of property destruction, vandalism, and even a personal attack.
These incidents started out fairly mildly. The staff noticed that the newsstand in front of the office would become empty very quickly. Upon inspection, the missing newspapers were found stuffed into the public trashcan on the corner. At the time, they took it in stride, and solved the problem by placing only a few copies at a time in the newsstand.
A few months later, their attackers raised the stakes by jamming the padlock on the gate that protects the stairwell leading to their second floor offices. This happened two times and on the third incident, the criminals even added their own lock and chain to the gate. After cutting the chain, Peter called the police, filed a report, and turned over the evidence for fingerprinting.
Shortly thereafter, a new kind of attack was directed against these peaceful people. They were in the habit of storing the stacks of newspapers inside the locked stairwell prior to distribution. Late at night someone threw plastic bags filled with urine over the gate, splashing the stacks of papers and the stairs with human waste. They destroyed over a thousand newspapers and created a foul and unsanitary mess that required a lot of cleanup. This was a big blow to a non-profit organization with a very limited budget. They filed another police report and with the help of a generous donation by a staff member, re-printed the damaged papers. After that, they stored the newspapers inside the building.
A few months went by without further incident, and by November 1st, they felt comfortable storing the newspapers on the stairs again. The first night the papers were outside, the attack was repeated, and hundreds more papers were destroyed. But that wasn't enough. The thugs took it to the next level and choose to attack Director Peter Bergel directly.
That same morning, while cleaning up the destroyed newspapers at the office, Peter got a call from home. Someone had placed pieces of plywood, with sharp nails protruding from them, behind each tire of his car, obscured under piles of leaves. Fortunately, Peter had gone to work by bike that morning, so the spikes were removed before any damage occurred.
More police reports have been filed, and the cases are currently under investigation, but at this time, there is no information available about possible suspects. When we contacted the Salem Police Department about these cases, they were unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, Peter checks his car every day, and the newspapers are back inside the office.
"It's a sad day when someone as nice as Peter and the other members of Oregon Peaceworks become victims of politically driven hate crimes. They are only exercising their constitutional right to freedom of speech. If you don't agree with them, don't destroy their newspapers, print your own! It's just childish." says Adrianna Sutton, an employee of the Oregon Department of Foresty, "It doesn't matter what side of the political fence you're on, criminal behavior is never acceptable. But what can we expect? The enemies of peace have never played fair."
Concerned citizens may contact Detective Marty Miranda at the Salem Police Department, (503) 588-6050 ext. 7051. The case numbers for these incidents are: 05-8288, 05-25915, 05-51883, and 05-52578.
For more information about Oregon Peaceworks or their newspaper 'The Peaceworker', please visit http://www.oregonpeaceworks.org or call (503) 585-2767.