In a rematch of their
legal arguments of a year ago, the city of Columbus and SOA
Watch organizers go back to federal court Friday with the protesters asking
Judge Clay Land to squelch a plan to use metal detectors at Sunday's rally outside
of Fort Benning's main gate.
SOA Watch filed an injunction in U.S. District Court in Columbus on Wednesday afternoon asking the judge to block a city plan that they believe will prohibit their group's constitutional right to assemble. A hearing will be at 1 p.m. Friday.
Protest leaders claim the city's unexpected plan to employ metal detectors at designated checkpoints goes against U.S. Magistrate Mallon Faircloth's ruling one year ago that by using that roadway for 12 years SOA Watch had established it "as a public forum and a site for public dissent."
"If the city tries to control access and limit our First Amendment rights it will be eroding the judge's ruling," SOA Watch official Jeff Winder said Wednesday.
Mayor Bobby Peters said the police department intends to use hand-held wands as a precaution and that people entering the area won't find this any more intrusive than security checks at airports and public buildings.
"This is for the safety of protesters and spectators alike, and I would think SOA Watch would welcome it," Peters said.
The mayor said police will not be conducting full-body searches nor will they require people to line up and go through permanent entrance-ways. He did say authorities may search caskets used in SOA Watch's mock funeral procession.
Winder said Police Chief Willie Dozier and Police Maj. Julius Graham gave SOA Watch founder the Rev. Roy Bourgeois a list of items that would be banned. That list includes weapons, bottles or containers filled with body waste or flammable substances, masks, and sections of rope, metal, wood or pipe of a certain size.
The police restrictions added that puppets, caskets and other props will be allowed in the area only after passing through metal detectors.
SOA Watch has been protesting at Fort Benning since 1990, demanding the closing
of a military training center formerly known as the School of the Americas. The
school was reopened in January 2001 as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation. Protesters claim the school still contributes to violence and terrorism
in Latin American countries.
Copyright 2002 Ledger-Enquirer