Town hall meetings called to discuss proposed health care legislation turned violent Thursday, with a meeting in Tampa, Fla., descending into shouting and one in St. Louis ending in arrests.
Close to 1,500 people came to the Tampa suburb of Ybor City to speak with Democratic State Rep. Betty Reed and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, an event that exploded into a near riot.
According to local media reports, the larger-than-expected crowd gathered outside the Hillsborough County Children’s Board building, where several hundred people, most of whom opposed a government health care plan, began to loudly chant and scuffle with organizers posted at doorways after the auditorium filled to capacity.
A freelance videographer was roughed up in an altercation, which damaged his camera equipment and glasses, and at least one man was treated for minor injuries after a scuffle left his shirt partially torn from his body.
“That’s the most violent anyone has been towards me,” Mark Bishop told WTSP-TV. “It was surprising, to say the least.”
In Mehlville, Mo., St. Louis police arrested six people, some on assault charges, outside another forum that was billed as a meeting on aging but was attended by activists on both sides of the health care debate.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the police showed up toward the end of the forum held by Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan. One conservative activist, interviewed at a local emergency room where he was being treated for injuries, said he was attacked by some of the individuals who were arrested as he passed out “Don’t tread on me” flags.
A forum with Democratic Rep. John Dingell in Romulus, Mich., also got rowdy as foes and supporters of health care reform argued with each other and one man, with his son in a wheelchair, shouted at the congressman. A similar scene reportedly unfolded as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited a homeless clinic in Denver.
In Tampa, video shot outside the auditorium showed several people holding signs and posters, banging on doors and windows, while others argued face-to-face and were seen screaming at one another in the parking lot as police looked on.
St. Louis County police arrested six people, including a Post-Dispatch reporter, during a demonstration Thursday evening outside a forum on aging called by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.
Three people were arrested on suspicion of assault, two for interfering and one for peace disturbance – all misdemeanors, said St. Louis County Police spokesman Rick Eckhard.
“You’ve got to understand — we’re at a very volatile situation, we’ve got 800 people and we’ve got to maintain order,” Eckhard said Friday morning. “They did what they had to do.”
Police will be interviewing more people over the next few days and welcome anyone with videotape to contact them. “We’re not trying to hide anything,” Eckhard said. “We’ll be talking with others who want to come forward and anyone who wants to suply video, we encourage that.”
The forum drew an overflow crowd of several hundred to Bernard Middle School gym in south St. Louis County. Dozens of people, many carrying signs about the health care debate, were kept out because of the turnout. The back and forth between factions within the crowd created a carnival-like atmosphere inside and out between members of the movement opposing President Barack Obama’s policies and groups who came to show support for the president’s proposals.
Members of the local Tea Party Coalition, a movement that has emerged to counter Obama’s policies, had urged their members to attend Carnahan’s forum, which in turn spurred Democrats to establish a strong presence.
The six people were arrested after confrontations outside the school, Eckhard said. Carnahan was gone when the ruckus started, Eckhard said.
Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman, who was covering the event and shooting video for stltoday.com, was arrested for interference. He was released on his own recognizance a few hours later.