Persistent Activists Force Out Military Recruiters
What happens when an army recruitment center is besieged by activists? In a recent case in Kingston, NY, the recruiters were forced to move. Although the recruitment center has been given 90 days to find a new location, Kingston peace activists look forward to celebrating the eviction of an Army recruitment storefront in a local strip mall.
It took four years of weekly peace demonstrations, sometimes resulting in arrests for trespassing, and eventually weathering a NYS Supreme Court case and a lawsuit. In February, the Kings County Mall chose to not renew the Army recruitment center's lease rather than continue its costly lawsuit meant to keep activists away and obtain monetary damages for hurting business. "The Kings Mall is evicting the military recruiting center because they [the recruiters] do not want members of the public to exercise their Constitutional rights to peacefully assemble to protest their government's actions." says Jay Wenk, a World War II Veteran.
It all started in March of 2005 when Mr. Wenk began vigiling outside the recruitment center doors holding signs and distributing counter-recruitment literature. After several solitary visits, he was soon joined by other activists and the vigils expanded to up to 40 people. Sometimes they read the names of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and displayed pictures of the devastation caused by the Iraq War.
Citing constitutional concerns, the district attorney refused to prosecute Wenk for seven arrests for trespassing, disorderly conduct and harassment. The case led to a NYS Supreme Court case. The court ruled that citizens had a right to demonstrate on privately owned property because a government office was renting there (setting an important precedent) but also placed several time, place and manner restrictions. Demonstrators could only appear one day a week during certain hours, they had to move outdoors instead of their usual indoor location directly at the doors of the recruitment center, and they could not display photographs.
Eventually the mall filed a civil suit against seven protesters, seeking to bar them from the property and seeking $50,000 in lost business. The suit is on hold however in light of the decision to evict the recruitment center. "Wherever the recruiters go, we will follow them." promises Jay Wenk.