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MARCH TAKES WRONG TURN CANOGA HIGH PROTEST TURNS INTO LOOTING.

Byline: Lisa M. Sodders and Ryan Oliver Staff Writers

An anti-war march against the U.S. policy on Iraq by about 500 Canoga Park High School students turned ugly Wednesday when some in the crowd started looting a gas station convenience store and disrupting traffic.

A group of students who skipped class to participate in the lunchtime protests stole candy bars and knocked over displays at the Mobil gas station at the corner of Topanga Canyon and Victory boulevards, officials said. Five of them were detained on suspicion of vandalism and theft, said Officer Jason Lee, a police spokesman.

Store owner Masood Behroozi said his clerk saw several students knocking over racks, breaking glasses and swiping snack foods. The whole incident was recorded on a surveillance tape that was turned over to police, he said. ``They were just joking and laughing and doing this for fun.''

``I know they are kids and they are young, but if they really love peace, they should show that they at least believe what they say,'' Behroozi said. ``I don't really care about the material loss. I'm just sad in my heart they would do this.''

The march was part of a worldwide protest against U.S. policy, and drew thousands of Los Angeles-area high school and college students throughout the city. Los Angeles police arrested 18 protesters downtown for failure to disperse and other misdemeanors when they blocked traffic for more than an hour.

Canoga Park High Principal Dennis Thompson said he was disheartened by the students' actions. ``In this great country of ours, we have the right to express our feelings and the kids that organized this march wanted to send a message and, unfortunately, that message was not heard because of the actions of just a few kids.''

Local district superintendent Deborah Leidner added: ``A handful of youngsters took what was an honest concern of many and created a diversion from that through their actions, and that saddens me. For the most part, our kids are sincere in their concerns, peaceful, and they really believe in their cause.''

Districtwide, students from 22 schools participated in Wednesday's class walkout, said LAUSD police Officer Jose Rios.

The protests were organized by numerous groups, including Not in Our Name, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, and the Coalition for World Peace.

Tens of thousands of students at more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide had pledged to join the protests, according to the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition. Thousands of students also rallied for peace in Britain, Sweden, Spain, Australia and other countries.

In the Valley, about 30 Sylmar High School students marched more than five miles Wednesday morning, carrying anti-war signs and chanting slogans in Spanish such as ``The people united will never be divided.''

``We're not doing this just to leave school,'' said Sylmar High student Patty Leon, 14, who has a brother in the Marines. ``We're doing this to get our voices heard.''

LAUSD high schools were giving high school exit exams Wednesday and several school officials said while they understood the students' views, there were better forums to express them than leaving school.

Sylmar High Principal Linda Calvo said the students who left the campus would be considered truant.

``I understand they felt they needed to send a message; we just have to make sure they're safe and the instructional program is not disrupted.''

San Fernando High School Principal Jose Luis said a group of adults appeared outside the school at noon, and called for the students to join them, shouting obscenities at administrators. He estimated that only three students left; school officials will study videotape before deciding penalties.

``We have been very proactive about this,'' Rodriguez said, adding that the school offered an after-school forum on the war last month. ``I told the kids there is a procedure for expression during school time and we certainly will help you do that. Walking out of school is against policy and unacceptable.''

Maritza Merchor, 16, a Sylmar High School student, shrugged off any concerns about possible penalties for walking out Wednesday.

``It doesn't really matter,'' she said. ``It's a statement - a lot of people are against the war. America is the one who looks bad.''

The protest also drew students from Monroe High in North Hills, Grant High in Valley Glen and Verdugo High in Tujunga.

Students at California State University, Northridge, gathered at busy intersections along Nordhoff Street to protest.

At Glendale Community College, more than 100 protesters gathered on the campus's grassy central plaza, holding picket signs and listening to speeches over a loudspeaker.

``Protesting is more patriotic than going to war,'' said Fred Greissing, 42, who was dressed as an injured soldier in a torn, blood-stained shirt and fatigues. ``I'm supporting the troops right now - they are being used as cannon fodder for an unnecessary war.''

The Associated Press and Staff Writers Nicholas Grudin, Jason Kandel and Simone Schramm contributed to this report.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Canoga Park High students, left, march down Vanowen Street on Wednesday to protest war against Iraq. They joined students nationwide at high schools and colleges.

(2 -- colo) Some anti-war protesters stopped to loot a gas station convenience store at Topanga Canyon and Victory boulevards.

Matthew Simmons/Special to the Daily News

(3 -- color) Students from Sylmar High march down Glenoaks Boulevard on Wednesday after skipping school to protest war with Iraq.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 6, 2003
Words:910
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