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Will fur protests spill over into suburbs?

Washington County residents and city officials should be concerned that a yearlong aggressive protest of Schumacher Furs and Outerwear by animal-rights activists will spill from downtown Portland into the suburbs.

Almost every Saturday for the past year, dozens of animal-rights activists have protested on the sidewalk in front of the store at 811 S.W. Morrison St. But even after the Schumachers announced last week they would leave downtown Portland to move to an undisclosed suburban community, more than four dozen protesters reportedly gathered outside the store again this past Saturday.

We think that yet another afternoon of protests is a clear indication that animal-rights activists, including the organization In Defense of Animals, won't be satisfied until Schumacher Furs closes its doors permanently.

This saga should trouble Portland-area residents. And suburban residents should be concerned that when Schumacher's relocates protestors will follow the store. Where the store may end up is anybody's guess. Beaverton's Cedar Hills Crossing or the Streets of Tanasbourne in Hillsboro might be a possibility. Bridgeport Village in Tualatin is not, according to the center's manager. Other Westside locations may include downtown Lake Oswego or Washington Square.

Locating in a Westside shopping center may pose not only a change of address, but limited access to the fur store for protestors. Owners of shopping centers have the right to deny admittance to their private property, which isn't the case in downtown where the sidewalk and streets in front of Schumacher's are public right of way.

We also are concerned that the Schumachers' decision to relocate sadly opens the door to more difficulties involving aggressive animal rights activists and other businesses. Some think that departments selling fur clothing in major retailers - Macy's or Nordstrom - will be targeted. It's possible that activists may spread their message and visible opposition to other businesses, such as restaurants or grocery stores that sell animal products, including meats. Or might protests once again target research centers that use animals in testing? Could protests also extend to the Oregon Zoo where animals are kept locked up for viewing and safekeeping?

We are opposed to any expansion or continuation of protests by the animal-rights activists. Yet we recognize the importance of freedom of speech. The Schumacher Furs saga is not only about people's rights to freely express themselves or their right to assemble in public. Both goals were accomplished at the first protest.

Instead, in this case, the ongoing protests were expressly organized to affect the store's operation.

Obviously, the effort worked. Which leads us to be concerned that Schumacher's move to the suburbs may not end things and that other businesses in and out of Portland will be targeted.

We believe that city officials and police agencies throughout Washington County should be very watchful of this matter. And be prepared to create and enforce policies and procedures that allow citizens to gather and communicate - and even protest - without affecting the rights and safety of others, including businesses.