Inner Harbor peace gathering brings arrest

March 02, 1991|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Religion Editor of The Sun

A dozen Roman Catholics quietly demonstrating for world justice and peace yesterday at Baltimore's Inner Harbor insisted their methods as well as their goals were lawful, but city police did not see it that way.

Brendan Walsh, leader of the group, was arrested at noon as he prayed on his knees in front of the World Trade Center on East Pratt Street. He was charged with violating a park rule that prohibits "advertising without a permit or license" in the downtown waterfront area.

One of the purposes of the demonstration, Mr. Walsh said, was to urge Lenten fasting "as a prayer and a moral force." He said Christians upset by the loss of life and the damage in the Persian Gulf war should fast or make other sacrifices in solidarity with millions of Muslims who will begin observing their monthlong Ramadan fast later this month.

He and John Oliveri, one of the demonstrators, said they were starting a 28-day fast from all solid food. It will unite them with "our brothers and sisters in the Mideast as a way of remembering and atoning for the violence inflicted there," Mr. Walsh said.

He said Catholic activists across the United States, England and Ireland -- including the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., in New York

-- would be linking their fasts of various kinds and durations to their hopes for justice and peace in many parts of the world.

Mr. Walsh is founder and co-director of Viva House, a 23-year-old West Baltimore soup kitchen on South Mount Street.

As he was taken into police custody, he held a sign that said, "Fasting for Justice in Ireland." A larger sign, held up by several

members of his group, said, "British Troops Out of Northern Ireland."

The Viva House founder was arrested when he objected to police officers' orders to disperse.

Mr. Walsh claimed that a lawyer had advised him it would be legal to gather on the trade center plaza because it was state property, technically outside the harbor area covered by city park rules. The police disagreed, saying the trade center was under the jurisdiction of both the city and the state.

One of the city park rules requires groups seeking use of public space at the Inner Harbor to make a $1,000 security deposit and have a $1 million liability insurance policy. Neither was within Viva House's means, Mr. Walsh said.

No other demonstrators were arrested. They moved as directed by police to the sidewalk on the north side of East Pratt Street across from the National Aquarium, where they remained quietly with their signs and handed out leaflets for an hour.

Last night, Mr. Walsh was still in the Central District lockup, awaiting an appearance before a bail commissioner.

Concerning the restrictions cited by police and the insurance and security-deposit rules, Mr. Walsh said, "The city of Baltimore is making it virtually impossible to obtain a permit to vigil and assemble peacefully in the Inner Harbor."

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