Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Birmingham Jails Nine Pro-Life Protesters, Civil Rights Violations Alleged

"RENEWING THE AMERICAN DREAM"

Birmingham, Ala.,(CNA).- Pro-life protesters who were arrested on a public sidewalk near a high school in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday have accused police of violating their ‘basic civil rights.’

The Survivors Campus Life Tour said that nine protesting group members were standing on a public sidewalk near Parker High School distributing educational literature to passing students. Two of the group’s members held large signs and conversed with students on the public sidewalk.

According to the group, a campus officer called the police department when they refused to leave the area.

Over a dozen squad cars reportedly arrived at the school and the police officers began arresting members of the group.

Lahoci Franco, 24, one of the sign holders, was the first arrested. According to the group’s press release, protestor Rev. Henry “Bud” Shaver, 30, was told that the sidewalk was not public property for “non-citizens of Birmingham.”

After other protesters were arrested, another group of Survivors members began packing up their van when officers reportedly approached and arrested them as well.

The protesters then were taken to the Birmingham City Jail, where they were reportedly forced to change into orange jumpsuits. Survivors Campus Life Tour says the protesters were held for six hours without water or access to a phone.

Protesters said they learned several of the guards at the jail also serve as security guards at a local abortion clinic.

The women were released at 7 a.m. and the men at 9 a.m. on Friday morning.

The group claims protesters were released without any citations but were given bond forms stating a “charge of trespassing.”

“We were arrested yesterday because of the content of our message,” claimed Kortney Blythe, Director of the Survivors Campus Life Tours. “It's clear from the attitudes and actions of the police officers that our message of life is not welcome in Birmingham, and prejudice is alive and well in this city. It is a shame that this historic city which saw the Civil Rights movement firsthand continues to refuse basic civil rights to peaceful activists simply on the basis of their message.”

“We are shocked by the Birmingham Police Department's response to our peaceful actions, and we call upon the Chief of Police to initiate a thorough investigation of yesterday's horrifying civil rights abuses,” she continued, saying the group’s pro-life work would continue regardless of the actions of “prejudiced police officers.”

Fr. Terry Gensemer, Rector of the Church of the Reconciler Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fairfield, called the situation “ironic” in light of Birmingham’s history in the Civil Rights Movement.

“The actions by the Birmingham Police Department are not only deplorable and shameful but are in direct conflict with the spirit and passion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated that ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. These young people who have correctly included unborn children as persons deserving of civil rights should be commended, not condemned.”

CNA contacted the Birmingham Police Department for comment but the appropriate spokesperson was not available by publication time.

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