[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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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