Preemptive Police Action Against Local Antiwar Group
By Bonnie Weinstein
An incident that occurred in San Francisco on April 2 illustrates the government’s worries about the budding anti-recruitment movement sweeping schools throughout the country.
The incident began Saturday morning, April 2, as members of a local antiwar group, Bay Area United Against War (BAUAW), entered a community building in San Francisco’s Mission district, for a scheduled meeting. Two San Francisco police officers were waiting to question members of the group about their counter-recruitment plans for an upcoming career day fair at George Washington High School.
The officers said that their commanding officer, Lt. Lynch, from the Richmond police station (the district where the school is located), had sent them to the meeting to find out the group’s plans. They even claimed they were against the war and indicated that the whole SFPD was against the war as well and they were there to “facilitate” any demonstration the group may be planning.
They proceeded to ask questions of group members (myself included) such as: how many people were expected to attend the meeting that day and how many people were expected at the “demonstration” at George Washington H.S. April 5.
We told them that they didn’t belong at our meeting. When we told them their presence was intimidating, they said that our feelings of intimidation were due to our own “negative attitude toward the police.” They said they had a right to come to the meeting because they were “part of the community” and the meeting was being held in “a building open to the community.” They also insisted they had the right to know what plans we had for April 5.
They claimed they “heard” that we were planning some kind of demonstration at the school. We asked the officers how they heard that, but got no answer. We told them we had no plans for a demonstration. We informed them that even if we did plan a demonstration, we were under no obligation to tell them about it unless we planned to apply for a sound permit or other such permit. We further explained to them that BAUAW has gotten permits when required, so they had no cause to suspect otherwise.
We let them know that we had arranged to set up a table at the school Career Fair through the counselor and the principal. They asked why we were setting up a table. We told them our goal was to steer kids away from the military and Junior Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs.
The two officers began questioning us about what literature we were going to have on our table, if our group’s name was going to be on any of the flyers, and how many people were going to show up for the table. We told them they had no right to ask such questions.
We told them we would distribute literature that explained the truth about the war, the military and student rights. We even had copies of the Army’s own School Recruitment Program Handbook that clearly states that the reason for military presence at the schools is for recruitment purposes—a fact that JROTC denies. (This handbook came in very handy and helped convince members of the school community of the real purpose for military presence in their school—including JROTC.)
But the questioning by the police was not over. They asked who was going to sit at the table. We explained that there would be people from several different organizations helping with the table. The officers finally left after about 20 minutes.
The next day, Sunday, April 3, we contacted Lt. Lynch, the commanding officer. He also tried to justify sending police to an antiwar meeting, saying the police were members of the community and had every right to attend meetings that were open to the public.
On April 5, the anti-recruitment table at George Washington High School received much student interest.
Our group made an official complaint for the police infringement of our right to assemble without their presence. The Office of Citizens Complaints told me it is looking into the matter to see if this was just a fluke or a new police policy. BAUAW is also pursuing legal assistance in this matter.
We have learned since, that other antiwar and radical groups have been experiencing new levels of police harassment while exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. For example, members of the International Socialist Organization report increased harassment by police during their newspaper sales in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Clearly, antiwar and anti-military activity in the high schools is disturbing to the government and the police who serve it. So much so that the government’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” denies federal funds to any school that refuses to allow military recruiters on school grounds and/or refuses to give the names, addresses and phone numbers of students to the military.
Parents, and students 18 years old and over can “opt-out” of the rule that the schools have to give the military their personal information. By signing the “opt-out” form you are refusing to allow the school to do this. A proper signature on the “opt-out” form keeps the school in good standing with the federal government while maintaining a child’s privacy.
The anti-recruitment movement is countering military recruitment on high school and college campuses by setting up anti-recruitment information tables at career fairs, recruiting students to the antiwar movement, and, in some cases, chasing the recruiters off the campuses altogether.
Anti-recruitment activity is part of BAUAW’s campaign to implement Proposition N, the ballot measure S.F. voters approved to bring all the troops home now from Iraq. BAUAW is campaigning for the school district to cut all ties with the military including direct military recruitment on campus as well as the JROTC program. Our purpose is to urge students to join the antiwar movement and not to join the military, not to fight against the Iraqi people, not to take part in this illegal, immoral war.
The anti-recruitment movement is a powerful and pivotal part of organizing against the war. It has the potential to drastically reduce the number of enlistments into military service. Numerous reports have already come out about the military’s inability to reach their recruitment goals. While the military leaves no stone unturned in its recruitment efforts, its main recruitment arena is in the high schools. When the draft was in effect, boys, as part of their passage out of high school, had to have a visit with the recruiter. Today, without the draft, the recruiters have to go to them wherever they are.
Military leaders of JROTC claim that since JROTC has no authority to sign students to the dotted line, they do no recruiting; they just create “good citizens” of the students. And to be a good citizen, according to JROTC, one should serve his or her country in some capacity. Then they “educate” students about the branches of the military. At least 40 percent of the students who join JROTC also join the military—a percentage much higher than that of the general high school population.
School districts allow students to receive credit for physical education requirements for high school graduation from the JROTC program. This gets the military up close and personal with the students. In San Francisco the program is funded half by the military and half by the schools (about a million dollars a year from each). By allowing the JROTC program to count as meeting the physical education requirement, the schools are funding the military program! The million dollars from the military, is just a contribution to themselves since they are in total control of the program and choose the teachers from the ranks of retired officers. The schools have no say over these “teachers” or the curriculum of the program itself. The JROTC “teachers” don’t even have to have a college education like the regular teachers do. The whole JROTC program is totally in the hands of the military. The high school counter-recruitment movement is a huge thorn in the side of the military.
But this does not give police officers a right to attend and ask questions at an antiwar meeting! Their armed and uniformed presence is intimidating, as it is meant to be.
For more information about Bay Area United Against War www.bauaw.org