Protesters Rally for Human Rights in York, PA

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Despite freezing temperature, plus snowy and slushy conditions on the ground, about 50 stouthearted protesters rallied at the York County, PA prison and also at a distribution plant owned by the Caterpillar Corporation. The Convergence for Human Rights sponsored the event, which was held on Sat., Dec. 6, 2003, and endorsed by over 66 groups (www.october18.org).

“We are out here protesting the government’s treatment of immigrants, the USA Patriot Act and the erosion of our rights since 9/11,” said Keith Dobson of York, PA. He continued, “We are also here to protest Caterpillar profiting from people’s misery by selling its bulldozers to Israel, which it uses to destroy Palestinians’ homes and for collective punishment, too, that is a violation of both the Geneva Convention and human rights.”

Beth Zovko, a student at York College, who hails from Pittsburgh, PA, was one of the activists that marched in the cold from York Co. Prison to the Caterpillar plant, which was situated a few miles away. “I’m here today to spell out my sense of indignation at the injustice that is going on right now in my country. I think that it is appalling that our civil rights are being thrown away.”

Both the prison, which holds hundreds of immigrant detainees under suspect legal authority, for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), and the Caterpillar plant, are located just outside of York, a town of 41,000. The Caterpillar plant’s reputation has been sullied by the fact that it distributes parts, which are used to manufacture armored bulldozers that have ended up being utilized by the Israelis Occupation Forces (IOF) to oppress the indigenous Palestinian people (See for details, Ronald L. Bleier’s “Israeli Terror,” 07/03, “The LInk,” ameu.org.)

Another young protester, who didn’t want me to use his name, said, “I came up here to York, just to let the world know how much I care about Rachel Corrie. What the Israelis did to her was a terrible crime.” Corrie was a 23-years old peace and justice activist from Olympia, WA. She was killed on March 16, 2003, at the Rafah refugee camp, in Occupied Gaza, by an Israeli driving a bulldozer that was made by Caterpillar. It is clear from the photos taken at the crime scene, that the driver deliberately ran over her, not once, but twice!

Since 9/11, BICE has been warehousing political asylum seekers in facilities, like York County Prison. BICE comes under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Justice Dept., which is headed by Attorney General John Ashcroft. BICE has refused, in violation of international law, to release the names of all of its detainees, many of whom are of Arab descent.

Farouk Abdel-Muhti, age 55, is one of the victims of BICE. He has not been charged with any criminal offense. A native of Ramallah, in Occupied Palestine, he was arrested in April, 2002, and held for deportation only after he became a producer on a popular WBAI’s Radio show, in NYC. His program championed the nationalist cause of the Palestinians (wbai.org). Abdel-Muhti, despite suffering from high blood pressure, was held in solitary confinement at the York Co. facility. On Oct. 30, 2003, he was shifted to the Bergen Co. jail, at Hackensack, NJ. A Habeas Corpus proceeding, which is challenging the legality of his imprisonment, is pending in federal court.

Robert F. Merrill, of York, is one of Abdel-Muhti’s most vocal supporters. He said, “I just don’t appreciate detention without fairness, justice and good solid evidence.” Merrill has also written two songs advocating the cause of freedom for the wrongly jailed Abdel-Muhti.

The authority of the Feds to deport an immigrant, even without a public trial and based on secret evidence, predates the “USA Patriot Act.” It was Sen. Arlen “Magic Bullet” Specter (R-PA) and then House member, now Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who pushed that Star Chamber-like device back in the late 90s. The “Homeland Security Law,” passed in 2002, greatly enhanced the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft Gang’s power to terrorized the immigrant community. Sadly, it was endorsed by pseudo liberals, like: Sen. Joseph “The Chicken Hawk” Lieberman (D-CT), Rep. Tom “Sharon Clone” Lantos (D-CA) and Sen. Barbara “Babs” Mikulski (D-MD).

Steve Baker, also from York, and a protester, underscored, “I don’t imagine that everyone would feel this as an important issue. I think it’s because they don’t happen to be sitting in jail, with no trial date, no bail and no attorney. If they could put themselves in ‘that’ position, then they could begin to understand the importance of us being here today.”

York’s roots date to colonial days. During the American Revolution, it even served as the capital from 1777-78, after the British military forces had taken Philadelphia and the embattled Contintental Congress was forced to flee that city. York is located 15 miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and 30 miles east of Gettysburg, where one of the most historic and lethal battles of the Civil War was fought in the summer of 1863. Many of today’s protesters were from York County, which has a population of 381,000. York is also 50 miles directly north from Baltimore, Maryland.

There was a extremely heavy police presence at both the prison and the Caterpillar plant sites, which seemed all out of proportion to the modest number of protesters. I noticed police vehicles from the York Co. Sheriff, Southwestern Region, Springettsbury Township and the PA State Police. In addition, officials from at least one federal agency were on the grounds, and on the roof tops, of the York Co. Prison, which is a sprawling complex that also houses female inmates.

Finally, John K. Stoner, of Akron, PA, who is active with the “Every Church a Peace Church” organization, blasted the indifference of the main stream American churches to the present serious civil and human rights situation in this country. He said,” The Christian community has betrayed Jesus who it claims to follow. Jesus was about nonviolent struggle for justice. When the Church aligns itself with imperial power, coercive power and homicidal violence, it leaves Jesus far behind. This is what President George W. Bush is doing, and what we need is for the Church to take up the passion for justice and social change that Jesus was all about.”

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