Finger bitten off at healthcare rally

A scuffle between supporters and opponents of reform ends with an anti-reform man losing his pinky

Published September 3, 2009 2:25PM (EDT)

It was one thing when protests over healthcare reform at town halls featured a lot of angry people yelling over each other. Not exactly a great way to conduct an important debate, of course, but nothing out of the ordinary, really -- and we do have that First Amendment thing, after all.

But when people's fingers are getting bitten off, maybe it's time to cool things down a little bit.

That's what happened in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Wednesday night. According to KTLA, a local television station, was sponsoring a rally in favor of reform that had attracted about 100 supporters, and a counter-protest formed as well. One man, witnesses say, was trying to get through the anti-reform crowd to go to the MoveOn side of things when he got in a confrontation with a 65-year-old man, who allegedly hit the first man in the face. The pro-reform protester then apparently retaliated by biting the 65-year-old's pinky off.

Neither man has been identified yet; the victim apparently picked up his pinky and either walked or drove himself to the hospital.

Update: MoveOn has put out a statement about the incident. With a hat-tip to Ben Smith, the full text:

Yesterday, MoveOn held over 350 peaceful candlelight vigils nationwide, in which tens of thousands of people participated in, to call for immediate action on health care reform including a strong public option.

We have seen press reports that indicate at one event in Southern California a regrettable act of violence happened. While we do not have any more facts about what happened then what we saw in press accounts, MoveOn condemns violence in all forms. We have seen passions run high on both sides all summer in the health care debate, and we strongly believe that this nation deserves an honest, peaceful and respectful debate about health care reform.

While we don't know if either party involved was a MoveOn member, we regret any violence that may have occurred yesterday, and we support the Ventura County Sheriff's investigation into the situation. It is our firm hope that this event does not detract from the tens of thousands who were out peacefully making their voices heard for health care reform and a public option.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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