Bourgeois: Arrests were violations of 'basic human rights'

by Joshua J. McElwee

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Yesterday’s arrests during a rally at the gates of Fort Benning here were violations of basic human rights, says SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois.

Speaking to NCR today during the solemn vigil and procession outside the gates of the military complex, Bourgeois said there was a “meanness” and a “harshness” to the police action.

Said Bourgeois: “We’ve been here twenty years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

As a rally in the alley leading to the gates of the Army facility ended yesterday, hundreds of activists stood at the edge of the designated protest area chanting slogans.

While the activists gathered police officers gave warning that if groups of people left the area they would be arrested for unlawful assembly.

One scene from the event gives a picture of the confusion that ensued.

As people were arrested in a parking lot near the alley, others stood nearby and were taking photographs. Police told them to step away and walk onto the sidewalk, off the pavement.

As most of the crowd complied with the police order one woman stood about a foot in front of the rest while walking slowly backwards. She was taking a picture. Police handcuffed her.

The people in the area repeatedly shouted “shame” towards the police as the woman was taken into custody.

To give an idea of the feeling the arrests caused in the activist community, below is a portion of Bourgeois’conversation with NCR . There are a few slight edits to his words for clarity.

We’ve been here twenty years and I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean such a violation of basic human rights like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to walk down the street. And I’ve never seen it this way.

There was a meanness, a harshness -- really some brutality. I was right there monitoring the situation. The students who were not involved in any way in the protest, they were leaving, going to their car. They were handcuffed. And those cuffs were tight.

There was a meanness that I’ve never seen and I don’t know what’s behind that. True, we were going to have a nonviolent action on city property, with certain individuals who had planned it. But all of sudden they moved in. They weren’t even able to get to the site they had hoped to get to, Victory Drive.

The police moved in, in force. I’ve never seen this many cops before. They treated everyone of us as a terrorist, or possibly a terrorist. And I don’t know what’s behind this, I really don’t. In the past there’s always been a lot of working together with the police and I wanted to talk to the police chief and ask what’s going on.

We’re going to have our attorneys investigate this. A few years ago we brought them to court for these illegal searches and it took two years, but we won -- saying that they do not have the right to have people open their bags, to search.

And all of a sudden this year they just put that aside.

But I want to say this too: the meaner they get, the closer we will get to shutting them down. With those 22 people in jail it’s going to call more attention. They’re going to be a part of the more than 300 of us who have gone to jail. And every time they send us to prison it’s call more attention to the issue -- it energizes the movement.

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