Police Harass Traveling Young Adults; Nonviolent Group is Threatened and Intimidated by Officers

For Immediate Release
Contact: Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, kyle@equalityride.com

(Clinton, MS) — As a traveling group of young adults attempted to recollect and depart Clinton, Mississippi, they were stopped three times by police vehicles within less than ten minutes. Their driver was subjected to threatening demands to "get out of town."

In response to this clear act of harassment, the Co-Directors of the tour wrote a letter to the Attorney General of Mississippi that voiced their concerns regarding this maltreatment and stated their intentions to return today.

The young adults are participants of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a 2-month journey to Christian schools to address the suffering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. As their goal is social justice and loving inclusion, they are committed to and trained in the principles of nonviolence as taught by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

Please see the letter below.

Also available: Letter from leaders of major LGBT rights organizations to the Mayor of Clinton [pdf]

March 23, 2007

Attorney General Jim Hood

MS Attorney General’s Office
Carroll Gartin Justice Building
450 High Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Sent Via: Facsimile

Re: "Get out of town"

Dear Attorney General Hood,

We write today out of deep concern for the actions of the Clinton Mississippi Police Department. We are the Co-Directors of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a bus tour of college students who are crossing the country to advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality. As a group we are committed to and trained in the principles of nonviolence, and have a history of peaceful dialogue and respectful interaction with college students and administrations across the country. Soulforce has an outstanding relationship with many police departments and honors the hard work that law enforcement officials put into their lives everyday.

Last night, while in the town of Clinton, Mississippi, we experienced a distressing form of police intimidation. After a day of dialogue at nearby Mississippi College, we parked our bus in downtown Clinton. We were waiting for the return of some of the members of our tour from area coffee shops. While waiting, a police vehicle approached the bus with its lights flashing, signaling us to move. Our bus driver immediately turned down the nearest road and into a church parking lot to await the Equality Riders. The same officer once again followed us into the parking lot, with his lights on and asked our driver to speak with him. The officer was quite aggressive in demanding that we "go on and get out of town." Our driver explained that we were still waiting on the remainder of our group, but was still forced to move the bus. At that time, we drove and parked the bus in a lot that was previously designated by the city of Clinton. For the third time, a police vehicle approached us with flashing lights. The officer who approached us was extremely indignant and asked us "what is your problem? We have already given you breaks today." Our driver explained that we were in the space the City provided for us. In response, the officer asserted that our driver would be arrested if he were to take us anywhere else and not leave the city of Clinton immediately. Soon after, a community member arrived with the rest of the Equality Riders and we left promptly. We are prepared to provide sworn affidavits from ten people who can attest to the above series of events.

This behavior on the part of a Clinton police officer is unacceptable and we consider it a violation of our civil rights. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to safely assemble in any town in America. Such actions on the part of a law enforcement agent serve to make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people feel unsafe in the city of Clinton. The role of a police officer is to protect members of the public, not threaten or intimidate them.

These concerns are augmented by the fact that several days prior to our arrival in Clinton, we received a document from the Clinton Police Department that set restrictions on our First Amendment right to assemble. After being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the city rescinded the unconstitutional restrictions and shamefully applauded Soulforce for "playing the game well."

We are planning on returning to the city of Clinton today for a preplanned community picnic and we will not tolerate a repeat of this sort of behavior from the Clinton Police Department. If threatened with arrest for lawful assembly today members of the Soulforce Equality Ride are prepared and willing to submit to such an arrest. Any arrests for lawful assembly would be challenged by us in court and followed up with a lawsuit on our behalf against the city of Clinton for violation of our civil rights.

We hope that you will take swift action by informing the city of Clinton that such behavior by the Clinton Police is unlawful and will not be tolerated in the State of Mississippi.

Jarrett Lucas & Katie Higgins

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.