|Jones-Lezama officially a fugitive; Blacksburg activist a no-show for prison|
By MIKE GANGLOFF
BLACKSBURG - New River Valley activist Niklan Jones-Lezama missed a send-off rally on Virginia Tech's Henderson Lawn on Tuesday, then missed his check-in at a federal prison where he was to begin a six-month sentence for taking part last fall in a protest at a U.S. military school for Latin American soldiers.
On Wednesday, Jones-Lezama was officially a fugitive, said Wayne Pike, the U.S. marshal for the Western District of Virginia. Pike said his office will make "a diligent effort" to find Jones-Lezama.
"I'm not running away from prison. I expect to be there soon," Jones-Lezama said in a phone call to The Roanoke Times Tuesday. "But I need to do what I can before my freedom is taken away from me."
Calling himself "a peaceful protester," Jones-Lezama, a 38-year-old switchboard operator at Tech, said he hoped not reporting for prison would make a further statement against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a school located at Fort Benning, Ga. A Blacksburg resident, he was one of two New River Valley residents arrested in November at an annual protest against the facility formerly called the School of the Americas.
About 100 of an estimated 10,000 protesters crossed onto base property in a mock funeral procession for the victims of the repressive tactics the school's opponents say it teaches. The U.S. defense department says the school promotes democracy and peace.
In previous years, protesters were given a warning the first time they entered base property. This year, first-time crossers received prison time.
In July, Jones-Lezama was convicted of misdemeanor trespass and sentenced to six months in prison. He was to report Tuesday to a facility in Beaver, W.Va.
Calling the Fort Benning institute a terrorist training camp, Jones-Lezama said he meant his act to commemorate the people killed in last year's Sept. 11 attacks and also the Afghan civilians killed by U.S. forces and others who had died around the world at the hands of U.S.-backed regimes.
"We have let the institutions of our government do our sinning for too long. The U.S. war of terrorism must end. Nonviolence is the only path," Jones-Lezama said.
On Tuesday in Blacksburg, Jones-Lezama's fellow defendant, Sue Daniels of Newport, left a send-off rally amid cheers and raised fists. Staff at the federal women's prison camp in Alderson, W.Va., said Daniels turned herself in and was beginning a three-month sentence.
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