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   A Season of Protests


LOCAL COMMENTARY:

A Season of Protests

by Scott Loughrey

EDITOR'S NOTE, 4/8/03: Since this story was written, all charges have since been dropped against the Garmatz 40.

Vive la révolution. With the assistance of the US mainstream media, the forces of mass destruction heading our government are delivering on their promise of endless, barbarous militarism; destruction of civil liberties, environmental devastation and class warfare. They're dismantling the framework of international law and replacing it with a new iron fist, thuggishly preying on the world's weak and poor. The growing resistance to all this is fighting both for our nation's soul and the future of the world.

The Bush administration continues to exploit 9/11/01 to justify their actions. Still, as they continue to use that day for their purposes we have not seen an investigation into what actually happened. How the World Trade Centers collapsed as they did, why the rubble was swiftly removed before careful inspection, the missing wreckage of Flight 77 after it supposedly hit the Pentagon, the lack of an Air Force response to the hijackings, the logical problems with the alleged phone calls from hijack victims to friends and family; and the President's strange behavior that day are just the tip of the iceberg. There are innumerable anomalies surrounding 9/11/01 that are waiting for a Free Press to explain. If only we had one.

In the spirit of nonviolent civil disobedience as practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King, the Iraq Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore has been engaging in protests designed to garner exposure to opposition of virtually everything the Bush administration is up to. (I'm an active member.) The Iraq Pledge has chapters in over 40 cities. (To sign the Pledge visit peacepledge.org. We have been taking our message to the "belly of the beast," such as the Towson Town Center Mall and the Garmatz Federal Courthouse. I'll describe both actions in the following.

Towson Town Eight to be Tried

On June 10, the Towson Town Eight will be tried. They have each been charged with trespassing, failure to obey a police order and disorderly conduct. They face jail sentences of 210 more days in jail, along with $1500 in fines. In addition, the Towson Town Center Mall is informing them all in writing that they are banned for life from ever again shopping there—oh, the horror!

This stems from our March 1 action. On that day, about 25 of us arrived at the Towsontown Center mall. Following a cue, we took off our jackets and revealed our shirts which had pictures of Iraqi children taped to them. We began passing out leaflets peacefully. No mall patron was harassed or obstructed. Most patrons were supportive of our actions. The police told us to leave but we continued until eight were arrested.

The arrestees were in jail for fourteen and a half hours. They reported that they received low-level torture. They were kept in leg shackles throughout. Two men and one woman were also uncomfortably handcuffed to a bench for almost the entire duration. Others were handcuffed to chairs for hours. Two of the other women were also kept in cells which were extremely cold. Three women shared one cup of water. One woman was denied repeated requests for a phone call. Finally, they were all verbally harassed by their guards in the early hours of the morning.

The underlying legal issue at stake is whether the First Amendment right of free speech is applicable in a mall. Sure, it is private property. However, most malls are built with heavy public subsidies. In addition, the infrastructure and security that these malls require to function are again footed entirely by the public. Also, most malls obtain numerous waivers from environmental regulations, which increase their cost to the public. So, why should the general public lose their Constitutional rights and be allowed nothing more in return for its considerable investment besides the privilege of shopping there? Personally, I won't ever shop again at the Towsontown Center if my civil liberties are stripped once I am inside.

Those who would like to learn more about the legal battle facing the Towsontown Center 8 should contact Max at: 410-323-7200.

Central Intake Booking: The Gulag off of 83

"I'm Major ______!" the diminutive woman barked, her voice filled with fury. I was then escorted from the Central Intake Booking Center (CIBC) by four large police officers.

I had come inside the release center to ask whether the support team for the forty nonviolent peaceful protesters who had been arrested that day could sit in their waiting room. The answer was no, even though the waiting room was not being used. I explained to this woman that we would not be noisy, that we were Maryland taxpayers and we were just seeking a modicum of comfort for what would be a long night. After the Major cited unspecified regulations, I asked her what her first name was, prompting her strikingly firm declaration of her rank.

The Central Intake Booking Center, opened in 1995, has always struck me as medieval. It is an austere, five-story, 280,000 square foot instrument of punishment and control. It visually signals daily to tens of thousands of commuters riding 83 that the State is in charge of us, and not vice versa. Many times I have passed by it and heard prisoners yelling out from their cells. I have also heard groups of them screaming and banging things as if collectively experiencing the same nightmare.

As we waited for the Garmatz 40 to be released from their nonviolent activity (described below) I was appalled that while the building can hold thousands of prisoners, friends and family of the incarcerated can not wait for their release in a waiting room. They also cannot use a public toilet. They must wait outside, and if the weather is badtough luck for them.

I have other peeves with the CIBC. For one, prisoners must sign that their property has been returned before they have even obtained it. One of the members of the Garmatz 40 reported having his watch stolen. Another said money was taken from her. Another said her cigarettes were pilfered. If the Garmatz 40 are an accurate sampling of the total prisoner population, it appears that there is quite a lot of thievery taking place by people wearing blue uniforms.

Another issue is how 21 women were kept in a single 9 x 15 cell for 12 hours. After seven were released the remaining 13 were kept there for seven more hours. That is a very long time to be sitting on the floor with no room to move.

Another problem with the CIBC is the incredibly slow processing system. The Garmatz 40 were kept in jail for as much as 19 hours. For nonviolent civil disobedience that seems extreme.

The Garmatz Action

On Friday, March 21, between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., forty anti-war activists were arrested at the Edward A. Garmatz Federal Courthouse in Baltimore, MD. They were charged with disorderly conduct for blocking a driveway.

The Iraq Pledge of Resistance called for the demonstration. Approximately 75 people participated. The group carried copies of a letter [Marc, how about linking to my letter?] addressed to The Honorable J. Frederick Motz. The letter argued that the present war on Iraq violates US and international law. At 9 a.m. the group marched to the front of the Courthouse. The ones who risked arrest then immediately held a "die-in" (i.e., collapsed on the grass). They also requested that the letter be delivered to Judge Motz in person.

All requests to meet with representatives from the Courthouse were refused. The group continued to leaflet, to "die" on the grass, to wave signs at cars and to speak with the police. At around 10:30 a.m. the members risking arrest moved to block the driveway of the Garmatz Courthouse. They held a die-in at the entrance-way, blocking Court traffic. The police subsequently arrested the 40.

The Garmatz 40 have been charged with refusing to leave, disorderly conduct, failure to obey a police officer and willfully obstructing traffic. All told, they face 12 months in prison and $2500 in fines.

The irony here is that while the US was waging its unpunished barbarous and criminal assault against Iraq, launching 500 cruise missiles in just the first two days against the largely defenseless Iraqi population, a group of Baltimore citizens face imprisonment and fines for something as minor as blocking a driveway.

The Garmatz 40 will be arraigned on May 16. Please support them.

Contact:

Iraq Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore
806 York Road,
Baltimore, MD 21212


Ph: 410-323-7200;
Fax: 410-323-7292;
email: mobuszewski@afsc.org



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This story was published on April 4, 2003.
  
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