Security Clamps Down on Local Residents
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During this week's G8 Summit on Sea Island,
Georgia, suspicions of possible terrorist or protester violence led police
to investigate, search and harass local citizens in Brunswick and Savannah,
two cities near the Summit. In the face of heavy police and National Guard
presence some local residents questioned whether the security efforts used
to prevent violence infringed on the very rights law enforcement officials
said they were working to preserve.
For the duration of the G8 Summit, Brunswick and Savannah
looked like military-occupied cities. In both, metal barricades were placed
around government buildings and Humvees, army helicopters and police officers
patrolled neighborhoods day and night.
Bill Quigley, a lawyer involved with the anti-G8 activist
events, said he believed the police and military were working together to
create a climate of fear and intimidation. "They focused that whole apparatus
on this community in the same way you would focus sunlight through a magnifying
glass on an ant."
Local residents complained that when small crimes did
occur, the security forces that responded were sometimes a mixture of military,
police and federal officials.
Governor Sonny Purdue requested this combination of
police and military forces when he declared a state of emergency along the
Georgia coast before the G8 Summit began.
Carol Bass, a resident of Brunswick and organizer for
the Fair World Fair said, "We're seeing soldiers on patrol in residential
neighborhoods all over the place. That is a very dangerous slippery slope
when you talk about civil liberties and civil rights. To call a state of emergency
when there is no emergency is a very casual use of extreme authority."
Stories of people being harassed and intimidated by
security officials have been reported from several coastal towns. Bass watched
the National Guard go to people's homes and question them about Zach Lyde,
a minister from Brunswick who was a major organizer of the protests and activist
"Soldiers came to the neighborhood where his church
is and were going door to door, talking to people about Zach and the people
in his church," Bass explained. "And then, this other big military
vehicle came around the corner and pointed a big old machine gun at us while
we were standing in front of his church. That's political intimidation."
William Pleasant, a resident of Savannah explained that
these were not isolated incidents and were part of a concerted effort to squash
dissent and prevent disruptions before they occurred. "My brother, my
next door neighbor - they've all been harassed by the police. They've had
their stuff searched, they've been shaken down. They've been thrown against
the wall - the whole nine yards. And there was no justification for it, other
than they looked young, or they looked unusual. There is a sort of a profiling
Pleasant went on to describe a wedding that took place
near his home. He said because it was a large gathering of people and was
spilling into the street, the area was immediately surrounded by Humvees and
surveyed by police.
However, not all residents were angry about the large
number of police and military patrolling the area. Both Brunswick and Savannah
have particularly high crime rates and some citizens said they felt safer
with the increased security patrols in the streets.
Robert O'Toole, the Deputy Superintendent of the Boston
Police Department, was in the area to monitor both the G8 protests and law
enforcement security measures. Like many other police involved in the G8,
he said the extreme militarization was justified by the possibility of violence
from protesters or terrorists.
"I don't think it's overkill and hopefully at the
end of this, you'll be doing a story on why did we have so many cops and law
enforcement and military," said O'Toole. "And that's a good story,
because that meant you had no problems."
But many locals believed the extensive military and
police presence did more harm than good. Businesses near roads that were blocked
by police had to close for the week. Others suffered as a result of media
coverage before the summit that repeatedly raised the spectre of violent protests
and terrorism. Many would-be costumers were afraid to go outside and shop.
The expensive security effort stood in stark contrast
to economic conditions in communities near the G8 Summit that struggle with
poverty, pollution and high unemployment. Back in October, Georgia lawmakers
secured $25 million from the Iraq appropriations bill for G8 Summit security,
while Brunswick and Savannah continue to suffer high jobless rates and economic
Jay Norman, a resident of Brunswick commented on this
disparity, "It's just a waste of tax payers' money. What about us? We're
starving, got homeless people out here. I can't even get my proper income.
This is America right? Supposed to be the land of the free? Well god damn,
it doesn't feel like that sometimes."
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