The Greensboro Seven rally support, police stay inside

by Amy Kingsley

A week and a half after Greensboro police arrested seven protesters at an anti-Bush rally, the suspects appeared with supporters at a rally held in front of the Melvin Municipal Building on Washington Street.

Almost 100 people showed up to the event, which was organized by UNCG College Democrats and others. Speakers included Ben Holmes, who read a statement by his mother, candidate Cynthia Holmes, Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center, Scott Trent from the World Can’t Wait and two of the defendants.

The arrests Jan. 31 have garnered international attention and intensified scrutiny on a Greensboro Police Department facing accusations of spying and brutality. Those arrested initially tangled with a plain-clothes officer who was videotaping the license plates of cars parked near the protest.

‘“It’s been amazing,’” said Kenneth Harris. ‘“I had really high expectations and the turnout and support have just confirmed my belief that we are going to get out of this and we’re going to be okay.’”

Several speakers emphasized seizing the opportunity for change from the police force on up to the president. Although much of the rhetoric focused on the plight of the defendants, who face charges including carrying a concealed weapon, assaulting a public official and inciting a riot, concerns about why officers documented attendees dominated the speeches.

‘“Domestic spying is not just a national issue,’” said George Saba, one of the defendants. ‘“In the Greensboro Police Department, within the special intelligence section, there are no checks and balances.’”

Since news of arrests emerged, the seven defendants have been deluged with support, Saba said. They spoke at a rally in Washington, DC on Feb. 4 and have been interviewed for radio programs broadcast as far away as Australia.

Patrick Tutwiler, president of the UNCG College Democrats, attended the Jan. 31 protest and witnessed the arrests. Since then, he has been in contact with the defendants working out ways to offer support.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Jan. 31 arrests for those attending the rally was that police protected the protesters marching through the street before the confrontation in front of the Scene, said Andy Nunnary, a drummer with Cakalak Thunder Drum Corps. The photographing of license plates and subsequent arrests deflated the euphoric mood of the 150 protesters.

‘“People were in good spirits and the vibe was very much alive until a protester was thrown onto the ground in front us by a police officer, effectively breaking up the drum circle, and killing the positive atmosphere,’” Nunnary wrote in a blog post.

The defendants have adopted the name ‘“The Greensboro Seven’” for their interviews with out-of-town journalists. Tim Hopkins, an organizer of the Jan. 31 protest and member of the World Can’t Wait, said he thought the charges were a smoke screen to deflect negative attention from the police. Harris expressed confidence that the seven defendants will prevail in court.

Johnson, a veteran of the 1979 Communist Workers Party showdown with the Klan that resulted in five deaths, came to show solidarity with the defendants.

‘“Brothers and sisters I am here because I support your right to oppose the president of the United States and all of the decisions he has made,’” Johnson said.

During his presentation to the crowd, Harris referred to the scandal within the department involving the special intelligence section. He maintained that Greensboro police officers needed to improve their public image by abandoning violent and secretive tactics. Protesters also referred to the 1979 incident, where police were absent for several minutes while Klan members and Nazis gunned down protesters, as an example of suspicious behavior they say has plagued the force.

‘“We’re going to make a change through this,’” Harris said. ‘“We’re being labeled a fringe group. Doesn’t the Greensboro Police Department realize that half the country voted against Bush?’”

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