Police try to block annual SOA vigil

The US advocacy group SOA Watch reported on July 22 that the police in Columbus, Georgia, are trying to impose unacceptable restrictions on the annual vigil the group has held there every November since 1990 to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). According to SOA Watch, Columbus police chief Ricky Boren wants to limit the vigil to 200 people on sidewalks outside the US Army's Fort Benning, where WHINSEC is based. In previous years thousands of people have demonstrated at a gate leading to the base. Boren is also seeking to deny a permit for the group to post its stage and sound system at the usual spot.

"This year, more than any other, we are called to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Latin America," Roy Bourgeois, the Catholic priest who founded SOA Watch, said in response to the restrictions. "When our military training continues to target communities, forcing the unaccompanied migration of thousands of refugee children, we must speak out." Noting that it won in federal courts in 2001 and 2002 against government efforts to restrict the vigils, SOA Watch has started a petition "calling on the Columbus police department to reverse its decision and to uphold the constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of assembly." The petition can be accessed here. (SOA Watch press release, July 22; National Catholic Reporter, July 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 27.