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Home News Organizing Updates 2014 Columbus Police Negotiations Update
2014 Columbus Police Negotiations Update PDF Print E-mail

This is an overview of the events that unfolded following the permit restrictions Columbus Police attempted to place on our annual November Vigil in 2014 - the year that marks the 25th anniversary of the brutal massacre at the University of Central America in El Salvador that sparked the first protest at the gates of Fort Benning in 1990.

We outline in chronological order the negotiations with representatives of the Columbus police, the city of Columbus, the law firm Page Scrantom Sprouse Tucker & Ford that the city hired, and Fort Benning authorities as well as the actions taken by SOA Watch's negotiating team and SOA Watch supporters in response to this blatant attempt to curtail First Amendment rights. These collective efforts against the silencing of our voices were successful and led to the reinstatement of a permit for the 2014 November Vigil at the traditional location of our protest!!!

June 12: Fort Benning Garrison Commander Col. Michail S. Huerter sent a letter to Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren requesting that Fort Benning Road be kept open during this year's November Vigil weekend.

June 23: Father Roy received a letter from Chief Boren, informing him that

  • the permit to set up a stage and speakers at the main gates of Fort Benning had been denied
  • protesters would be required to stay on the sidewalks
  • no more than 200 protesters would be allowed to participate
The police cited the base not closing the gates, and "safety issues" in their letter accompanying the permit denial, and suggested we move to a remote back entrance of the base, on South Lumpkin Rd. While they have offered to let us set up a stage with sound at this location, it is far less visible and miles away from where we've traditionally held our solemn funeral procession and protest.

July 22: SOA Watch responded to Chief Boren with a letter of our own, reminding him that
  • our constitutional rights to demonstrate at the main gates have been twice upheld in court, even by Judge Faircloth, who sentenced hundreds of us to prison for trespassing
  • our protest space is entirely under Columbus jurisdiction, not the military's
  • we have the responsibility to stand up against injustice and the right to peacefully assemble for speaking truth to power
We reached out to our supporters at this time, and dozens of letters of support came pouring in from our partner organizations, supporting SOA Watch's First Amendment rights to express our outrage at the SOA/WHINSEC's continued export of racist violence and domination from the US. We also began circulating a petition to Chief Boren that more than seven thousand activists signed, adding their voices to the groundswell of resistance to this police attempt to silence us.

July 31: SOA Watch negotiating team, led by Peacemakers Liz Deligio and Sr. Kathleen Desautels as well as Sr. Alison McCrary of the Legal Collective, had their first call with Columbus police. Chief Boren was not present, and the city's lawyers and representatives from Fort Benning continued to push the back entrance location as an alternative.
  • We learned that the base has constructed new housing in a sector towards the front side where we traditionally protest, and they gave that as a reason for why they requested Fort Benning Rd. remain open. However, maps clearly show an alternate route shorter and as fast or faster to downtown Columbus
  • Father Roy lives right outside the base, and on Sundays has noted no more than one or two cars per minute traversing that entrance, so closing it should not be such an inconvenience for very many
SOA Watch decided to pursue a presence at the main gates throughout the weekend no matter what.

August 8: Sr. Kathleen and Liz send another letter to Chief Boren, reminding him that in years past (before 2001) the base did not close the gates, and we still had thousands peacefully assembled on Fort Benning Rd. with no safety issues. They reiterated our request to demonstrate on what has become federal court-protected ground at the main gates of Fort Benning.

At this time, our partners who had sent letters to Chief Boren and Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson began receiving responses either from lawyer James Clark at Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford or Lt. Ross of the Columbus Police Department. In these responses, it was erroneously claimed that this year's permit restrictions were similar to prior years in which the Vigil "occurred on the shoulder of the road" before the base had decided to close the gates. This is false: we have had demonstrations in the street for the majority of our history holding a Vigil at the main gates.

August 19: The Columbus Police Department and Mayor Tomlinson received a letter signed by 12 members of Congress expressing their concern about the legality of the imposed permit restrictions and supporting a reinstatement of the permit that had been granted in previous years.

On that same day, SOA Watch received a letter from Page Scrantom Sprouse Tucker & Ford, reminding us again of the South Lumpkin site as a "suitable and safe" alternative location for the Vigil (an unacceptable offer that we were not even going to consider) and then proposing access to two lanes at the traditional site on Fort Benning Rd. (while traffic from and to the base would continue on the other two lanes during Vigil activities). An article from the National Catholic Reporter discusses this turn of events.

SOA Watch did not even have time to officially respond to the new proposal, because on August 24th another article in the Columbus newspaper Ledger-Enquirer informed us unofficially of the "diplomatic gesture" by the city of Columbus and Fort Benning representatives to close the gates and give us full access to the original site, claiming that all of a sudden "the post can accept some transportation disruption for SOA Watch's exercise of free speech."


Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2014/08/24/3260493_post-city-make-diplomatic-gesture.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
August 26: Following-up on the Ledger-Enquirer article a new letter was sent to Chief Boren requesting an update on the status of our permit situation, since we had not yet been officially informed about this. On that same day a solidairty letter signed by Latin American human rights defenders (including Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and organizations from six different countries) was sent to the Mayor Tomlinson and Chief Boren.

September 2: SOA Watch received official word from the Columbus Police Department confirming that "[b]ased on Ft. Benning's decision to leave the gates closed on Ft. Benning Rd this year, permits have been issued approving the location and numbers as have been issued in previous years."

Our movement has not been silenced! This November we will gather again at the Stone Gates of Fort Benning to raise our voices, calling out Presente!" to denounce injustice and to commemorate the victims SOA violence!
 

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SOA Watch
733 Euclid Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

phone: 202-234-3440
email: info@soaw.org