Alice Gerard's Statement, 2005 Print
Alice E. Gerard
Sentencing Statement
January 25, 2005

On November 21, 2004, I went to Columbus with the hope to cross the fence at Fort Benning for a second time in two years.
While walking through the woods, I felt that it was very likely that my attempt to cross that fence would end in failure. As it turned out, my feelings were accurate. I was arrested before I could cross. My effort to cross was a failure.

I wanted to cross because I have feet... and a voice... and a heart... and tears... My tears are for the killed and disappeared... my heart is for the torture victims who are left alive with their nightmares, their panic, and their deep sense of loss... my voice is to say the words that those who no longer can speak would like to be said on their behalf... and my feet are to take those words straight to the people with the guns who have trained the torturers and the assassins.

I wanted to cross to say no to torture and assassination... and to say yes to human rights and to life. I wanted to cross to remember the lives of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Archbishop Juan Gerardi of Guatemala. I crossed to remember the lives of nuns and priests and labor union leaders and parents and teachers and babies and children and old people... people who were killed by troops trained at the School of the Americas. I wanted to cross to remember my classmate in a Guatemala language school, Sister Dianna Ortiz... and all of the other torture victims, both those who survived the horrendous experience as did Sister Dianna and those who died.

I wanted to cross for all of those reasons. But I never did.
Walking to the fence at Fort Benning inside the giant Puppet of Mourning was an experience that I will never forget. The puppetistas who trained me to walk in the puppet told me that I was carrying on my shoulders the sadness of people who had lost everything but their tears. Their loved ones were gone... they had been killed or disappeared. Their loved ones no longer could speak out. By carrying the puppet, I was speaking on their behalf, expressing the emotions that they were no longer able to express. It was a huge responsibility for me. At the fence, I left the puppet behind, but I took the cross from her hand, so that I could bring something of hers onto the grounds of Fort Benning.

It was my hope that I could plant that cross on the grounds of Fort Benning as a memorial to the brave archbishop who told the world about the many years of U.S. government-sponsored war on the people of Guatemala, just two days before he was brutally killed by graduates of the School of the Americas. I planted the cross as part of a small cemetery outside of Fort Benning grounds.

Near the grounds of Fort Benning, the police took me away pre-emptively because the government said that I was not supposed to be at a base that is open every day of the year, save one weekend, the weekend when the SOA Watch folks come to ask for the government to be accountable for its actions. When I was arrested, I assumed that I must have been on the base... even though I didn?t know when I had arrived. The police took me onto the base... and I issued a letter, banning and barring me from Fort Benning permanently... and I was shackled... and taken to jail... all for saying no to torture and assassination and yes to human rights and life.

When I made the attempt to cross the fence, I was aware that there were consequences for crossing the fence at Fort Benning twice in two years. It took much thought for me to come to the decision to make that second trip. I thought about it in federal prison last spring, when I saw the shocking pictures in the newspaper of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. I thought about it after I went home, when I heard of the continuing human rights abuses in Colombia... the assassinations and the disappearances... and when I read that the U.S. State Department said that the military in Colombia was not violating human rights. I thought about it and wondered if I should use my body to say no to torture and assassination and yes to human rights and life.

It was not an easy choice to make, that choice between my own comfort and the potential consequences for saying no to torture and assassination and yes to human rights and life. I chose the latter instead, still firmly believing that I have not violated the law by expressing my viewpoint. Instead, I feel that I have fulfilled my civic responsibility, just as I do when I vote or serve on a jury. I also feel that fences do not make good neighbors and that they also do not serve as effective barriers to free speech and free assembly, rights guaranteed by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The government, it seems, does see fences as good neighbors and as barriers to free speech. It has chosen to keep dissent from the spaces that it claims as its own by surrounding itself with fences. I feel sad that the government has chosen to hide from its own people behind fences. I feel sad that the government considers dissent within those fenced-in spaces to be a violation of that law.

I also feel sad that I failed to cross the fence and sadder still that I am to be sentenced, even though I firmly believe that I violated no laws. But my being convicted and sentenced for an offense that never happened is a small injustice compared with those that continue to be perpetrated by graduates of SOA/WHINSEC in Colombia and in other Latin American countries.

I would like to use my very being to be a good neighbor... I... request a sentence of community service so that I can give something to my city and county, which are struggling with budgetary chaos. Because I too am struggling economically..., I request that you please show consideration in any fine that you might charge me...

I thank you, Judge Faircloth, for giving me the opportunity to express myself in your courtroom today. I am now ready to hear my sentence, and I know that the penalty that I am to receive for crossing that fence will be minimal, in comparison to the torments that many in Latin America have suffered at the hands of troops trained by U.S. military, both here and in their own countries.