NewsMon Feb 16, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST
Birmingham Police Accused of “Horrifying Civil Rights Abuses” Against Pro-Life Advocates
By Kathleen Gilbert
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, February 16, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Members of a pro-life protest group have accused Birmingham police of violating their civil rights by bullying and arresting the group for peacefully spread their message on a public sidewalk.
According to a press release issued by the group, nine members of the Survivors Campus Life Tour were holding signs, dialoguing and distributing literature to students on a public sidewalk at Birmingham’s Parker High School Thursday when police arrived in over a dozen squad cars and began to threaten the group with arrest unless they leave.
The group says they contacted their attorney, who assured them that their location on the public sidewalk and their free speech activity was legal, and so they continued their activities until police began arresting the members without explanation.
Members reported being treated with contempt both by police officers and jail guards. Kortney Blythe, 26, Director of the Survivors Campus Life Tours, claimed she was videotaping the event when an officer approached her from behind, pulled her arm behind her back, and escorted Blythe without explanation into a squad car. She joined Shara Guengerich, 18, whom the group says had also been detained without explanation while distributing literature. They said Guengerich was handcuffed so tightly that she was crying from the pain, but arresting officers ignored her requests for relief.
Survivors member Rev. Henry "Bud" Shaver, 30, said he was informed during the arrest that the sidewalk was not public property for "non-citizens of Birmingham".
Members claim that they were placed in holding cells for 6 hours without water or access to a phone despite requests, and that at least one member was shackled painfully at the ankles for hours despite his attorney’s pleas for their removal. Rev. Shaver said he and the other male detainees learned that several of the jail guards also serve as security guards at a local abortion clinic.
The members were held overnight in the Birmingham City Jail and released early the next morning. Daniell Versluys, the Survivors’ Director of Special Events, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that the members were given no paper citations, only bond forms stating "Charge of Trespassing" with no penal code listed. Versluys also said that the group plans to publish their video footage of the incident on Youtube. It is uncertain whether either the police department or the Survivors will press charges.
A request to Birmingham police by LSN for information about the incident was declined.
Survivors Campus Life decried the civil rights violations suffered by their members at the hands of Birmingham police.
"We were arrested yesterday because of the content of our message," stated Blythe. "It’s clear from the attitudes and actions of the police officers that our message of life is not welcome in Birmingham, and prejudice is alive and well in this city." Blythe called upon the Chief of Police to investigate the "horrifying civil rights abuses."
"I am in shock and disbelief that a person can be arrested for simply standing on a public sidewalk and handing out literature," said Allison Aranda of Life Legal Defense, the Survivors’ legal counsel. "If there is any principle that is so deeply rooted in this nation’s history it is the right of free speech, and it is shameful that those charged with upholding the law are in fact the ones that violated the Highest Law of the land today."
"The police officers of Birmingham have demonstrated a total disregard for both local laws and the Constitution," remarked Rev. Jeff White, founder of the Survivors. "It is ironic that young people participating in a project named after Dr. King’s letter sit in the very jail he penned it from. Ironic and sad. ... Throughout their entire ordeal, these youths’ first and foremost concern was to draw attention to the ultimate civil rights abuse - the murder of pre-born children."
Mayor Larry P. Langford
Birmingham City Hall
710 20th Street North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203-2216
Phone: 205-254-2277 FAX: 205-254-2926
Executive Administrative Assistant to the Mayor
To contact all Birmingham city councillors
To contact the governor of Alabama
Governor’s Office Telephone Numbers