[Ppnews] FBI and SWAT teams show up at antiwar event

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 28 13:12:41 EST 2011

Memphis lawmen say high-profile visit to protest 
was to keep peace center peaceful

By Marc Perrusquia

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When a police SWAT team and an FBI anti-terrorism 
squad showed up Tuesday at a Memphis church where 
peace activists were staging an event, a scene 
reminiscent of the turbulent 1960s ensued.

The activists, members of the Mid-South Peace and 
Justice Center who oppose the war in Afghanistan, 
characterized the encounter as police 
intimidation and a case of illegal surveillance.

FBI and Memphis Police Department representatives 
countered it was all a misunderstanding. They 
said they were there to protect the activists 
from potential harm by extremists who might oppose their views.

"We don't buy that at all,'' said Jacob Flowers, 
executive director of the nonprofit center.

"Never (before) have we encountered the situation 
where we've had eight to 10 marked and unmarked 
police cars, including tactical units, sitting 
there monitoring us. We find it too coincidental.''

About 15 to 20 activists gathered Tuesday 
afternoon at First Congregational Church, where 
the Peace and Justice Center rents office space, 
to fill out Freedom of Information requests aimed 
at discovering if the FBI or MPD is keeping 
surveillance files on the activists. Flowers said 
16 individuals filled out FOIA forms at the event.

Activists grew alarmed when three members of the 
FBI's local Joint Terrorism Task Force stopped by 
the church, followed by MPD patrol cars and 
unmarked, black SUVs manned by TACT unit 
officers. The police units surrounded the church 
on South Cooper, and the black SUVs slowly crept 
through the church parking lot.

"Can you tell me why you're here?'' demanded 
Flowers, who led a group of activists who 
approached an SUV driven by Lt. Ernest Greenleaf.

"We're just here to make sure nobody bothers y'all,'' Greenleaf responded.

Speaking later by phone, Police Director Larry 
Godwin said his officers responded to help 
protect the activists and keep peace as part of 
routine law enforcement procedure.

"Any time we get word of a protest or any kind of 
demonstration ... we just ask our officers to 
drive through the area,'' Godwin said.

Godwin said MPD had received no specific threats 
of violence against the activists.

He said, however, that officers were mistakenly 
under the impression the event would be outdoors, 
where participants might be vulnerable. A press 
release promoting the event read, "Demand end to 
FBI harassment of peace, anti-war, solidarity 
activists. ... Who else is being watched by 'the thought police?' "

The officers were supposed to only pass by the 
church to check security, then move on, Godwin said.

"The next thing we know we've got four or five 
officers sitting down there. They weren't supposed to do that,'' he said.

Godwin said MPD's response wasn't coordinated with the FBI.

FBI spokesman Joel Siskovic said he, too, doesn't 
believe the two agencies coordinated their 
response. Siskovic said he wasn't aware of any 
specific threats, but confirmed that three 
anti-terrorism agents arrived at the church 
shortly before the event in an effort to promote 
security, citing a general concern about rising 
violence "against people expressing their opinions.''

"The last thing we wanted to do was to create 
some sort of misimpression that they're under investigation,'' he said.

­ Marc Perrusquia: 529-2545

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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