Sixteen SOA Watch protesters were arrested Sunday after willfully trespassing on Fort Benning property.
The fact that they crept through and climbed over the fences separating them from the post isn't breaking news. After all, crossing the line has become a ritual of sorts at the annual event.
Each protester must answer this question: To cross or not to cross?
A large crowd gathers near the stage to hear speakers Sunday during the annual SOA Watch protest at the gates of Fort Benning (Photo by Mike Haskey/Ledger-Enquirer)
While a small percentage of protesters actually cross the line, nearly everyone in attendance cheers those who do. Jacqueline Davis, a 20-year-old student at Regis University in Denver, is in the minority.
"I disagree with crossing the line," she said. "It's more powerful to have a group of demonstrators who comply with our laws. There's no point in crossing the line except for media exposure."
Rick Dukes, a protester from Columbus, said he applauds the sacrifice of those who enter the installation.
"Sometimes you must break the law or the law will break you," he said. "They do it not with intent of malice."
Lea Wood, a 90-year-old protester from Vermont, believes crossing the line is a peaceful and necessary disobedience.
U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth ruled Friday that protesters who entered the installation Sunday wouldn't have to spend the night in jail if they posted bond. Bond for first-time offenders was set at $500, while repeat offenders had to pay $1,000. One of the offenders -- Alice Gerard, 50, of Grand Island, N.Y. -- refused to post bond. Her hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Recorder's Court. The others will return to Columbus for a hearing to be set at a later date.
Annie Rooney, 19, and Brittany Hurst, 20, both students at DePaul University in Chicago, said they wouldn't consider entering Fort Benning, but they understood why others would break the law.
"It's an act of civil disobedience," Rooney said, "but I think it's peaceful disobedience."
"It's not a destructive act," Hurst added. "We're here in remembrance of the people who have died."
Father Donald MacMillan, campus minister at Boston College, said he tells his students the decision to cross the line is theirs.
"I don't tell them not to do it," MacMillan said. "I tell them to listen to their hearts. If their own conscience tells them to cross the line, then they cross the line. I'd support them if they crossed."
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