ACLU of Georgia Challenges Mass Searches at School of Americas Protest

November 13, 2002

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

COLUMBUS, GA-The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia today filed a lawsuit challenging last minute plans by law enforcement officials here to search more than 10,000 marchers at the upcoming School of Americas (SOA) demonstration on Sunday, November 17.

The City of Columbus-located two hours south of Atlanta-recently revealed plans to erect two security checkpoints on that day to search individuals protesting a controversial combat training school. 

"Mass searches of non-violent protesters are completely unconstitutional," said Gerry Weber, Legal Director for the ACLU of Georgia. "The way the City has set up 'checkpoints,' demonstrators will still be waiting in line next Thursday for a protest that occurred the previous Sunday." 

"We have monitored protests for decades, and this is the first time we've ever heard of a plan to conduct mass searches of all demonstrators," Weber added.

The ACLU asserts that no court in the country has ever allowed mass searches of non-violent protesters. 

"We have never condoned violence and we have never had an episode of violence in the protest in all the years we have held it; the checkpoint system will pose a serious hindrance to people's right to attend the protest," said Father Roy Bourgeois, an organizer of the protest for SOA Watch. 

According to the ACLU brief, even if each protester could speed through the security checkpoints in a minute, it would take more than 80 hours for all protesters to make it through the two planned checkpoints.

"Last year, when the City of Columbus tried to deny the First Amendment rights of the protesters, Judge Faircloth ruled in the protesters' favor," said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. "This year the City is trying to make an end-run around the judge's order with these regulations. This is creating a situation that will be impossible for both the local police and the protesters. It could make the situation less safe for all concerned."

The ACLU of Georgia along with volunteer attorney William P. Quigley has asked for an immediate hearing and requested that the court stop the City's plan to search all protesters.

The School of the Americas was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation last year. It is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

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