SOA Watch vs. City of Columbus
by mali 5:52pm Fri Nov 15 '02 (Modified on 8:58pm Fri Nov 15 '02)
The ACLU of Georgia along with SOA Watch filed suit against the city of Columbus today, challenging the city's plan to conduct mass searches of the demonstrators on Sunday, November 17th.
The ACLU of Georgia along with SOA Watch filed suit against the city of Columbus today, challenging the city's plan to conduct mass searches of the demonstrators on Sunday, November 17th. Having attained the proper permits for the weekends events, SOA Watch was only informed late last week of the new security action including searches with metal detectors.
Jeff Winder, a long time peace activist and current SOA Watch Staff member, commented before the hearing that the reasons for bringing the city to court were larger than the annual protest, he was personally concerned about people's rights to converge and voice their political opinions. With all the new laws created, he questioned "are we going to equate dissent with terrorism?" The ACLU and SOA Watch focused on fourth amendment rights which say persons can not be searched without warrants, probable cause, or consent. The ACLU became involved with the case because they felt that the searches would restrict people from attending the demonstration, therefore infringing upon their first amendment right to speak freely and peaceably assemble.
SOA Watch and the ACLU's attorney William Quigley focused on the non-violent history of SOA Watch and especially the annual November demonstration at Ft. Benning. He then spoke about the several techniques SOA Watch implements to maintain their non-violent stance. These include a pledge of nonviolence, nonviolence training workshops, and trained peacekeepers that attend the demonstration. The pledge of nonviolence includes no weapons, no vandalizing, and no assault, among other commitments that foster a respect for all people. The pledge is read several times throughout both days of the demonstration. The nonviolence workshops are held throughout the U.S., and SOA Watch encourages all participants to attend one, preferably before traveling to Columbus, GA. Quigly then cited case law that had allowed for mass searches because there was a history of violence, dangerous weapons present, or evidence of anticipated violence. The ruling in U.S. vs. Davis allowed for searches of airplane passengers - the previous year there had been 40 attempted plane hijackings this history of violence was enough to create new laws that allowed for bypassing the fourth amendment right. Other examples include a KKK rally in which participants had threatened to bring weapons. This constituted evidence of anticipated violence and thus allowed for mass searches of the participants. SOA Watch has had a long history of non-violence: in twelve previous November demonstrations, there have been no arrests or reports of violence or assault.
This brought up the question of what is violence and whether unlawful conduct and civil disobedience constitute violence. The defense felt that public safety was the number one concern and that the protestors did not respect the law and therefore were a hazard to public safety. They felt that by doing mass searches they could create a safe environment for the public, demonstrators, and officers. Officers testified that in recent years the demonstration has escalated and the past year came close to a riot situation. IN support of this contention, one officer claimed that one of the signs that a situation was going to escalate to a riot is the appearance of bare breasted women - of which there were four last year. Also the police noted that last year was the first time that the protesters acted out "against the City of Columbus" when they chose to sit in the middle of the road into the base and impede traffic after the expiration of their permit.
The defense used these two incidents to show that the demonstrations have been escalating in recent years and warranted the use of mass searches in order to protect public safety. The defense also argued that since SOA Watch does not know which groups will be attending the gathering and what their stance on nonviolence is, there is no way they can guarantee that no acts of violence will occur.
Apparently, the Judge agreed with these arguments; he ruled against SOA Watch and denied their request for an injunction against the city.
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by Jay O'Hara 8:58pm Fri Nov 15 '02
I am absolutely astounded that this went through. They didn't do searches at this years IMF/World Bank protest, why on earth do they think that SOA is going to pose a public safety problem? I feel the cold hand of Big Brother reaching in. The presense of metal detectors will probably cause more tension than has every been present at this event. PATRIOT ACT Here We Come!