40 are charged in Baltimore protest

Anti-war demonstrators attempt to block entrance to U.S. court downtown

War In Iraq

March 22, 2003|By Josh Mitchell and Kate Shatzkin | Josh Mitchell and Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

About 40 anti-war protesters were arrested yesterday morning after they blocked an entrance to the U.S. District Court building in downtown Baltimore, federal and city police officials said.

As the United States escalated its bombing campaign against Iraq, protesters carrying signs and shouting anti-war slogans gathered about 9 a.m. in front of the Garmatz Federal Courthouse on West Lombard Street. Organizers of the protest said they wanted to deliver a letter to Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz requesting action against the war.

But when a team of more than 60 city police and federal security officials blocked members of the group from entering the building, some protesters lay in front of an entrance to an underground parking garage, organizers said.

No injuries were reported, and the gathering was broken up by noon.

"There were plenty of other citizens allowed to enter the courthouse, but only if the politics of their visit was acceptable to the police," said Jay Gillen, one of about 20 protesters who was not arrested. "The politics of our visit wasn't acceptable, so we were prevented from entering the building."

The protesters who were arrested were taken to the Central Booking and Intake Facility, and as of late last night, all 40 had been charged with state counts of trespassing, disorderly conduct, failure to obey and obstructing passage, said state's attorney's office spokeswoman Margaret Burns. Some were still waiting to appear before the District Court commissioner; those who had appeared were released on their own recognizance, Burns said.

Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the Federal Protection Service, the building's main security team, said the protesters were arrested because they "were blocking the entry and exit points to Garmatz building. ... They were asked to stop doing that, they refused to do so, and thus they were arrested."

According to court documents, police warned the demonstrators that they were preventing a van of federal prisoners from leaving and had to move.

Mark Lancaster, a member of Citizens for Peace in Northeast Baltimore, one of three groups involved in the planning of the protest, joined about 70 others in the morning in front of the courthouse.

They chanted slogans such as "Support our troops, bring them home now," and sang "America the Beautiful." And they carried signs containing pictures of Iraqi children and slogans such as "War is not the answer."

"We really believe many people of this country have not been listened to," said Lancaster, who was not arrested. "We're certainly not going to get to the president, and Congress has been totally inept. So where else could we go in Baltimore? You find a federal building."

When several members of the group attempted to enter the building, city police and federal security officials blocked the entrance, Lancaster said.

Many of the protesters walked down a hill to try to enter through a secure garage under the courthouse, and some lay down, symbolizing dead bodies. After a warning from police, about 40 of the demonstrators were arrested, said Mike Bardoff, a member of Citizens for Peace.

Regarding complaints that officials blocked members of the group from entering the courthouse, Federal Protection Service spokesman Bentley said, "I have no knowledge of that."

Lancaster said the arrests will not deter his group from further demonstrations.

"We believe in this country," Lancaster said, "and we believe ourselves to be patriots."

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