Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday that he asked federal law enforcement not to harass or hassle anyone at the gathering site in the national forest in Mount Tabor after receiving some reports of intense policing.
“There is no reason to hassle these folks,” Shumlin said.
Officers have issued 131 warnings and 106 violation notices so far to people involved with the gathering, the U.S. Forest Service said in an update Wednesday.
Over the previous two days, 14 pounds of baked goods laced with THC, about 50 grams of a suspicious powdery substance, and various other illegal drugs were confiscated at the gathering, according to the update.
An assault also occurred Tuesday night at one of the campsites being used by members of the group called the Rainbow Family of Living Light, authorities said. The victim had wounds on her face and was treated at Rutland Regional Medical Center.
In all, 75 unsolved crimes and crime locations have been identified, according to the update. One member was also stopped for DUI of a controlled substance.
Sixty Rainbow Family defendants appeared in Rutland court to clear their violations Monday, according to the update.
The Forest Service said 2,300 people are already at the campsite for the gathering, which officially starts Friday.
Along the side of Forest Road 10, otherwise known as Brooklyn Road, dozens of cars, buses and vans were parked facing down the mountain Tuesday. Rainbow Family members, many of whom walk through the national forest barefoot, have set up tents and kitchens along a trail in the woods, and in a meadow they have set up teepees and more tents.
The group meets each year in a different national forest. Authorities have said as many as 20,000 people might attend, but Rainbow Family members said the number usually ends up being around 10,000 at most.
Some Rainbow Family members said the law enforcement is heavy-handed.
Adam Buxbaum, of California, told VTDigger that there has been a “dismayingly overzealous show of force by law enforcement.”
Since June 20, Forest Road 10 has been patrolled hourly by Forest Service officers, Buxbaum said. The officers have been pulling people over for “petty violations” such as broken tail lights, expired inspection stickers and wide turns, he said.
Buxbaum also said the officers have intimidated people into consenting to vehicle searches. If they don’t consent, officers bring police dogs to sniff the cars, which often turns up no contraband, he said.
“One individual was detained for about an hour while officers retrieved a K-9 unit to search his car with,” Buxbaum said. He called that a possible violation of a court ruling that found police officers could not legally extend a traffic stop in order to retrieve a police dog for a search.
William Mickle, incident commander for the U.S. Forest Service, said the service has brought in federal law enforcement officers who work cooperatively with state and local law enforcement.
“As with any large group event, it is imperative to provide law enforcement services to ensure safe and orderly traffic flow, parking, public safety, protection of natural resources and event security,” he said.
Mickle said this is done through vehicle and foot patrols by uniformed officers in marked vehicles. The enforcement actions are compatible with both state and federal law, Mickle said. “In addition, the law enforcement agencies strictly adhere to preserving the civil right of all citizens and providing fair, equitable and reasonable treatment,” he said.
Shumlin suggested that after his intercession, people may see law enforcement being more sensitive to concerns.
“Sometimes we overreact before we have to react,” he said.
Shumlin said he is all for peace and love and believes Vermont should be a welcoming place to all people.
“Let’s live and let live,” he said.
Another Rainbow Family member from California said law enforcement response to the gatherings has stepped up in recent years. She would give only her first name, Paula, because she said she owns a business.
Paula said she has gone to all but five Rainbow Gatherings since 1979 and has taken her children.
She said a strong law enforcement presence isn’t necessary at the gathering. “We’re just a bunch of old hippies, not dangerous terrorists,” Paula said.
Gary Stubbs, a Rainbow Family member from Marysville, California, said the biggest concern the Forest Service has about the gatherings doesn’t ever come to fruition. “For 44 years the Forest Service has been at war with the Rainbow Family,” he said. “But they can never say we damaged the forest.”
He said he has been attending the annual gatherings since 1984. The Rainbow Family members have even stricter standards of cleaning up the campsite than the Forest Service does, Stubbs said.
By next spring, residents won’t even be able to tell the gathering ever happened, he said.
David James Parker, a rapper from the Bronx who goes by his stage name Busy Bee, said he is attending the Rainbow Gathering for the first time this year. “I’ve watched things like this on TV, but to be here live is just awesome and heart-thrilling,” Parker said.
Parker began his career in the late 1970s in old-school hip-hop and has worked with many artists, including Kid Rock, with whom he produced a song that sold 11 million copies, he said.
“People of my culture — the hip-hop culture — need to come visit this event in the future,” he said, adding that he will attend again.
Another musician, Jai Love, from Eugene, Oregon, said he goes almost every year to the gathering. “Some people go home for Christmas. I go to the woods for the Fourth of July,” he said.
For Love, the Rainbow Gathering is the only part of the American culture that is still alive. “I am proud to be an American when I come here and live on this beautiful land,” Love said.