Activist Arrested at Millen Prison Groundbreaking

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(APN) MILLEN, Georgia — Activist Ayman Fadel, 42, was arrested Wednesday, December 15, 2010, at a protest of the groundbreaking of a new prison facility in Millen, Georgia.  Millen is in Jenkins County, Georgia.

Gov. Sonny Perdue was present at the ceremony.

The proposed facility, the Jenkins County Correctional Center, is expected to be completed by March 2012, and will house up to 1,100 of prisoners.

Fadel is a member of Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition and the Central Savannah River Area Peace Alliance.

“I have no special knowledge or background of it.  I just think there are too many people in prison.  The only time before that I went to a protest for a similar issue was at the Stewart Detention Center the day before the SOAW rally,” Fadel told Atlanta Progressive News.

A video of the event, posted on Atlanta Progressive News courtesy of Fadel, shows that several protesters arrived at the groundbreaking ceremony, where the police chief greeted them and said he had no problem with them being there as long as they stayed on one side of the red line.

“Oh they’re [the people at the ceremony] gonna see you.  Just stay behind this red line right here,” the officer said.  “If you want to protest, you just have to stay behind this red line… I don’t have any problem with you guys.”

Later, however, the sheriff comes over and asks, “Good morning?  Who’s in charge?”  Fadel then says he is.  The sheriff introduces himself as Robert Oaks.

“Load up them signs, if you would?  You all have been designated to spots on Front Street and that’s where you need to go,” Oaks said.

“I thought this was a public event,” Fadel said.

“It is.  No protesting on private property,” Oaks said.  “So, yesterday, I talked with Mr. Salter [local activist].  Two places designated… that’s where you need to take the signs.  This is it.”

“No, I’m not leaving here.  I’m not leaving,” Fadel said.  Oaks then had Fadel arrested.

“That’s not right.  This is designated a public event.  We should be able to let the Governor know of our opinions… There’s no reason you should deny us this right,” Fadel said.

In an interview today with APN, Fadel said, “When he said two options, actually there was really only one… that’s basically the same place.  Basically, not here was the basic option.”

“I didn’t choose to get arrested.  I chose to not obey an order.  He could have chose not to arrest me, he could’ve backed down, the sheriff didn’t choose to do that,”Fadel said.

“I thought the urgency of the issue required the seriousness of the occasion.  I don’t think that deep about it.  They already put me 80 yards away of the tent, I just had a little sign.  We weren’t chanting, we weren’t obstructing.  We had signs that were not obscene, were not threatening.  Even our meager protest was being shut off,” he said.

“At this point, I thought the dignity of our position was at stake if I complied with the order,” Fadel said.

“This is God’s Earth, I don’t like somebody telling me where to put my sign.  It was set up as a propaganda event… I as a person who did not agree with what’s going on, have a right to express otherwise,” Fadel said.

“Protesters had been granted permission to protest the groundbreaking within the city of Millen, according to the Jenkins County Sheriff’s Office,” the Augusta Chronicle newspaper reported, citing a press release from the Sheriff’s Office.

“However, when they began to protest at the invitation-only event on property owned by Corrections Cooperation of America, representatives from the company asked the sheriff to remove the protesters,” the newspaper reported.

The Sheriff’s Office claims the event was invitation-only, but an article published before the event occurred, in the Millen News newspaper, said that the general public was invited.

Other activists present at the protest included Wayne Salter of Jenkins County and his son; David Matos, Mike McCullen, and Denice Traina of Augusta area; and Taryn Jordan and Ingemar Smith from Atlanta.
Fadel said he organized the protest in coordination with Georgia Detention Watch and local activists near Millen.

Fadel spent about four hours in Jenkins County Jail, he said.  Other activists posted 500 dollar bail for him, he said.  He was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and plans to discuss the issue with an attorney Monday.

According to the Millen News, the prison “will provide approximately 200 full time jobs for local citizens with an estimated annual payroll of $8 million in salaries and benefits.”

“We’re here at the CCA which is gonna be the prison complex.  I guess it’s fitting they’re gonna build a prison by the garbage dump, because that’s just about what a private prison is.  We’re taking people out of society, rather than trying to reform them and try to get them back into society in a restorative way.   We’re throwing them out here like garbage,” Salter said in remarks captured on video during the protest.

(END / 2010)

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