Monday, April 30, 2007

My Friend, Rev. Don Coleman Goes to Prison Protesting the School of the Americas

Don Coleman (70) and his wife Ann Marie Coleman are pastors of the University Church in Hyde Park, Chicago. I have known them for over 15 years. They are two people who embody what Jesus means when he says: "Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." Two weeks ago Don checked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago for 60 days as punishment for his protest at the School of the America's in Fort Benning, Georgia.

In September, 2006, after about a year of consideration, he took part in civil disobedience at the School of the Americas now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in Ft. Benning Georgia. He crossed the physical and symbolic line between protest and resistance and was arrested at once.

The School of the Americas has a terrible history of training Latin American forces in the dark arts of war and interrogation. Many of the commanders of death squads in Guatamela and El Salvador came to America to learn their trades; many of the leaders of the Contras in Nicaragua were first students in Georgia. We are all implicated in murder, rape and torture through our acceptance of the School of the Americas.

At his trial, Don offered the following statement, (reproduced from notes and may not be verbatim):

Your honor and friends:

My name is Don Coleman. I am co-pastor, with my wife Ann Marie, of University Church in Chicago. I come to this court room with support and encouragement from members and friends of University Church.

University Church has been involved in matters of Central America for 25 years. Members have traveled to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia. We have spent hours in study groups learning about Central America. Members of the congregation were active in the creation of the Sanctuary Movement in Chicago in the early eighties.

We have been blest by Virgilio Vicente, Isabel Canu, and their family of four children, who became active at University Church when they came to Chicago in 1986 through the Sanctuary Movement. Virgilio is from Saq Ja, one of four hundred villages destroyed by the Guatemalan military. Saq Ja was razed to the ground; plants were uprooted and burned, animals killed, people slaughtered, and a few escaped into the jungle, Guatemala City, or with help from the Sanctuary Movement came to the United States.

Virgilio and Isabel have become American citizens. But they are caught in the contradiction of citizenship and knowing that it was they United State?s military (namely, School of the Americas) that trained the military leaders in Guatemala responsible for the destruction of their village and the slaying of their family members.

University Church has sent people to these demonstrations at the gate of Ft. Benning since 2002. Last year (November 19, 2005) a delegation of 13 people attended the demonstration. Virgilio placed a cross against the fence blocking people from entering the base. I was moved to tears for on the cross were the names of his father and mother who had been killed in the destruction of the village of Sq Ja.

Those of us at University Church know that there are consequences to the training that takes place here. We know names and see faces of people brutally slaughtered by Guatemalan military personnel trained here. They keep the upper class in power, protect corporate interests, rob the poor of their land, and are responsible for killing or disappearing church leaders and labor organizers and teacher and community leaders.

I have pleaded not guilty but have agreed to the stipulations of the government that I did cross through the fence on November 19, 2005. Let me plead guilty, your honor, to what I accept guilt for:

I plead guilty to respecting the law. I have been a law abiding citizen all my life and have never had any convictions for actions like this before. But the comparison of climbing through a fence with no damage to physical property or harm to another human being cannot be compared to the injustice and brutality that is the consequence of the training that takes place at this base. And I believe the focus on the petty misdemeanor that we are accused of makes this court complicit in the brutal acts of the Western Hemisphere Institute of Internal Security / School of the Americas.

I plead guilty of thinking long and hard about my decision to participate in this action. I could find no other way of putting WHINSEC/ SOA on trial for the crimes committed because of their training than this action. I consider what the sixteen of us have done as a way of holding the military in this country accountable for the injustice created by their actions. This act of civil disobedience on my part is really an act of holy obedience to the God who called me to respond.

I plead guilty to this action as a way of closing the WHINSEC / SOA. My act is the act of one person but it supported by members and friends of University Church and people from around the country. There will continue to be people from University Church joining with the thousands committed to closing this institution. And we are confident that in God?s long arc of justice its will be closed. So let justice roll down like an ever flowing stream.

Read about others who went to prison with Don

Read an informative article by Peter Rothberg published in The Nation entitled "School of the Americas: Shut It Down"

When Don was asked what people can do to support him, he suggested four things:

1. Pray: for him, for the other 15 prisoners of conscience and for our congress: that they wll act to quickly close the School of the Americas.

2. In solidarity, join him an the 15 other prisoners of conscience in fasting on April 23, 26 and 27.

3. Contact with your member in the U.S. House and ask him/her to co-sponsor H.R. 1707, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2007. The bill that would suspend funding for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas)

4. During the next 60 days, tell the story of the SOA to a few of your friends who don't know about it already.

Send a card of encouragement and thanks to Don!
Arthur D. Coleman
Metropolitan Correctional Center
71 W. Van Buren Street
Chicago, IL 60605


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