Six members of various anti-war groups and a reporter for OpEdNews.com were arrested Saturday at a protest organized to shut down the Army Experience Center (AEC), located in Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia.
They were released early Sunday morning and charged with criminal conspiracy and failure to disperse. Those arrested included OpEdNews.com reporter Cheryl Biren, Debra Sweet, National Director of World Can’t Wait, and Elaine Brower, of Military Families Speak Out, whose son was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq three times. According to Brower:
“The AEC is giving guns to 13 year olds, drawing them in with violent video games. As more and more Afghani civilians and U.S. military are being killed in the US occupation of Afghanistan, we’re saying NO to these wars. We’ve got to stop the flow of youth into the military where they’re being used to commit war crimes in our name.”
Earlier on Saturday, as part of the Army Experience Center protest events, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Christopher Hedges, author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, addressed the crowd outside the Franklin Mills Mall.
Hedges, a former war correspondent for several publications including the New York Times, has spoken openly of his aversion to war after spending years covering major conflicts in El Salvador, the Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo. Prior to the event, Hedges released a statement describing his opposition to the Army Experience Center:
War is not a game. Weapons are not toys. The essence of war is death. The purpose of war is to extinguish all opposing living systems from the economic to the political, social, cultural and finally, familial. Those who entice children to play with mock weapons of war will never allow these children to see what these weapons do to human bodies. They hide from them the fundamental truth about violence and in this way socialize them to kill.
On the eve of the eighth anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, with President Obama’s current escalation of military action resulting in increased American and Afghan deaths, the war on Afghanistan is quickly losing favor amongst Americans. The Army Experience Center is the military’s most ambitious high tech effort to counter war disfavor and drum up army recruitment by instilling militarism and passion for weapons in impressionable youth.
This $13 million, 14,500-square-foot recruitment tool has drawn wide-ranging criticism for its extreme attempt to inspire enthusiasm for war through simulated games that show none of the horror and devastation of combat, but focus instead on the adrenalin rush of state of the art weapons of destruction.
Also arrested with Sweet and Brower were protesters Sarah Wellington, Joan Plume, Beverly Rice and Rich Marini. Biren was photographing the arrests when she was detained by police. Biren identified herself to police as a journalist, however they swiftly approached her and arrested her with the others. The six women were detained at The Roundhouse, the central police facility in Philadelphia, until their release at 5am Sunday morning.
According to Rob Kall, OpEdNews.com’s executive editor:
The police were arresting six demonstrators. The demonstrators were peaceful and cooperating with the police. OpEdNews.com managing editor was on the scene, covering the event as a photographer. She had not carried signs, had not shouted with the protesters. She was there strictly as a journalist– as the many police videos and photos will prove.
She was at the front of a group of other onlookers who were watching the police arrest the demonstrators who had separated themselves from the crowd. All of a sudden, one plain clothes police officer rushed forward and roughly grabbed Biren, as she was photographing the arrests, pulling her from the crowd and forced her to the area where the protesters being arrested were standing. She protested that she was a reporter, a member of the press. I, as publisher of OpEdNews, reinforced her claim immediately, to no avail. She was put into temporary plastic handcuffs which were made so tight her wrist was injured. A number of observers and legal consultants agreed that her use of a professional camera, taking photos of the arrest was probably a factor in her arrest. Biren thought fast and before the cuffs were placed on her she removed the chip storing the images from her camera and hid it in her bag so she still had the photos. They can be seen here.
According to Linda Milazzo, managing editor at OpEdNews.com:
Shortly before the arrests began, the police announced that they would be arresting people if they did not leave. A crew from PBS’s Frontline left the area immediately. This made it impossible for them to document the police making the arrests. Biren was the only member of the press who lingered, with a large crowd, who stayed to document the arrests. This is an essential role for the media-one which the mainstream media on-site chose not to pursue.
After she was released, Biren reflected, “How can press be prevented from recording news in the making? It’s shameful. It’s anti-democracy.”
The arraignment date for the protesters is Sept. 23 at 1301 Filbert St., Philadelphia.