Constabulary in Mattydale, N.Y., disses four generations of veterans in my family
On Sunday, April 22, I went up to the anti-drone action at Hancock Air Base in Mattydale near Syracuse (they are flown out from here) to do a Christian witness against the wanton death and destruction drones are causing to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I thought it would be a good balm for the anger I've been feeling with the ministers at the church I attend. One of them recently made a rather poor comparison between the recent mass killings in Afghanistan done by St. Bales and the drones that have killed innocent civilians. I am ashamed to tell you that I did not follow my instincts, jump up from the choir and yell, “For Christ's sake there is no difference!” I dropped the ball on the “discretion being the better part of valor” thing that Sunday.
So my peace buddy, John Amidon, and I left early Sunday morning to meet our brothers and sisters in Syracuse for the walk and action of trying to deliver an indictment to the base officials.
Although I sincerely wanted to partake of the Sacrament of the Handcuffs, I was coordinating a major state conference for 100+ people, I had the primary on Tuesday (I am an elections inspector for the city of Saratoga Springs -– how desperate are they?) as well as a family funeral just before the polls opened. I could not take the risk of missing out-of-office time on Monday -– too many people and events were depending one me.
Just over 50 of us gathered at the corner and set out to walk the ¾ mile to the base in a silent, respectful and prayerful procession. There were several Catholic workers and Veterans for Peace (VFP) members in the contingent. (I am always proud to witness with either of those groups). I was carrying a white flag with peace signs in the shape of hearts on it, processing in silent prayer.
There was a beverage station about a ¼ of a mile from the entrance of the base and from it I could see three or four vehicles from the local constabulary blocking the road, some with lights blazing.
“Oh, look -– they've sent a welcoming committee”, I jested to one of the other peace witnesses.
I was about fourth from the end of the procession and followed the line of peace witnesses as I watched them cross the street in front of said police vehicles to a parking lot.
It is important to note at this point that we were directly across from Hancock Air Force Base property.
As I was walking, all of the sudden I hear that people in the parking lot are being arrested so -– not wanting to risk arrest -- I began to walk away. An officer ordered me back, saying that I was under arrest and if I tried to leave I would have the additional charge of resisting arrest.
I was trying to figure out what crime I had committed. Walking silently while carrying a peace flag is a crime? Praying in public? What?
They were cuffing people and hauling them off. I immediately called my husband to let him know what was happening as well as two friends who live in Ithaca in case I needed to get bailed out and get home as soon as I could.
The officers informed us that we were being arrested because we were having a parade without a permit. And it was clear from the belligerent attitude of a few of the officers that we were being arrested for more than an unauthorized parade. That and some of the officers and soldiers giving each other “high fives” and congratulatory “mission accomplished.”
Wow. Big victory there, stopping a group of unarmed, peacefully assembled civilians from peacefully expressing a grievance to their government (translation: expressing their First Amendment rights).
This proves that you can have both “Big Man Syndrome” and “Little Man Syndrome” simultaneously.
Since the organizers vigil at the base at least once a week and have never needed a permit before they didn't think they would need one for this particular day.
Paul Frasier of the Catholic Worker got control of the situation explaining to the officers that we had not intended to flout the law -– we did not know that the organizers had not gotten the proper permit. At that point the officer in charge let go the people who had not yet been arrested.
Police officers in the parking lot and soldiers across the street were filming all of us and continued to do so until all of us left. (Who says those Homeland Security dollars are not being properly spent?)
I went looking for my friend John and I could not see him anywhere and he was not answering his cell phone. One of the officers, who was in fact quite kind, checked the huge “paddy wagon” they had thoughtfully brought along with them and reported back that he was not there. Turns out he was cuffed in the back of a police cruiser, digital camera and camcorder confiscated so any pictures could be downloaded for evidence. (As of this writing they still have his cameras.)
He wanted to give me the car keys so I could get my purse, which was locked in the trunk of his car, and I could get home that evening. The officer in the car refused saying I could get the keys when John was released in the morning (wanna guess what his political views are?). So I approached the kind officer, explained my predicament and he graciously got the keys for me.
As it was, the 33 people who were arrested were ticketed and released within an hour and a half. FYI -- a parade without a permit is a violation, not a crime. A violation is like a traffic ticket but you have to show up in court.
One of the people arrested is a lawyer who specializes in Constitutional Law (what's left of the Constitution anyway) so the court appearance should have a bit of levity -- dark levity -- but levity just the same.
I was interviewed by both YNN and the local Channel 9 news stations, saying that the real story was a group of US citizens peacefully expressing their First Amendment rights were arrested across from a military installation that purports to protect those rights. Since the interview did not appear on the news I assume we have a difference of opinion on what constitutes a story.
I asked my dad, who served in the military during the Korean War era (he's one of the four generations of veterans in my family), if it was his recollection that he was risking his life so that people walking along a road carrying a peace flag could be arrested and he told me that was not how it was explained to him.
Question: do you think a parade of people walking the same route, towards the same base, carrying American flags and posters with slogans that expressed some kind of support for the troops and/or the military in general, sans permit, would have been stopped and arrested? Would that have been seen as a victory?
And how about the irony of being arrested for expressing my First Amendment rights across from a multi-million-dollar United States Air Force base whose raison d'etre is to protect our freedoms?