Savannah; June 12, 2004 – During this weekâ€™s G8 Summit on Sea Island, Georgia, suspicions of possible terrorist or protester violence led police to investigate, search and harass local citizens in Brunswick and Savannah, two cities near the Summit. In the face of heavy police and National Guard presence some local residents questioned whether the security efforts used to prevent violence infringed on the very rights law enforcement officials said they were working to preserve.
For the duration of the G8 Summit, Brunswick and Savannah looked like military-occupied cities. In both, metal barricades were placed around government buildings and Humvees, army helicopters and police officers patrolled neighborhoods day and night.
Bill Quigley, a lawyer involved with the anti-G8 activist events, said he believed the police and military were working together to create a climate of fear and intimidation. "They focused that whole apparatus on this community in the same way you would focus sunlight through a magnifying glass on an ant."
PHOTO: Around 100 fully-geared riot added their ranks to other officers, all to confront about 65 protesers. (Benjamin Dangl/NewStandard)
"They focused that whole apparatus on this community in the same way you would focus sunlight through a magnifying glass on an ant." -- Bill Quigley, lawyer for anti-G8 activists
Local residents complained that when small crimes did occur, the security forces that responded were sometimes a mixture of military, police and federal officials.
Governor Sonny Purdue requested this combination of police and military forces when he declared a state of emergency along the Georgia coast before the G8 Summit began.
Carol Bass, a resident of Brunswick and organizer for the Fair World Fair said, "Weâ€™re seeing soldiers on patrol in residential neighborhoods all over the place. That is a very dangerous slippery slope when you talk about civil liberties and civil rights. To call a state of emergency when there is no emergency is a very casual use of extreme authority."
Stories of people being harassed and intimidated by security officials have been reported from several coastal towns. Bass watched the National Guard go to people's homes and question them about Zach Lyde, a minister from Brunswick who was a major organizer of the protests and activist forums there.
"Soldiers came to the neighborhood where his church is and were going door to door, talking to people about Zach and the people in his church," Bass explained. "And then, this other big military vehicle came around the corner and pointed a big old machine gun at us while we were standing in front of his church. Thatâ€™s political intimidation."
William Pleasant, a resident of Savannah explained that these were not isolated incidents and were part of a concerted effort to squash dissent and prevent disruptions before they occurred. "My brother, my next door neighbor - theyâ€™ve all been harassed by the police. Theyâ€™ve had their stuff searched, theyâ€™ve been shaken down. Theyâ€™ve been thrown against the wall - the whole nine yards. And there was no justification for it, other than they looked young, or they looked unusual. There is a sort of a profiling going on."
Pleasant went on to describe a wedding that took place near his home. He said because it was a large gathering of people and was spilling into the street, the area was immediately surrounded by Humvees and surveyed by police.
However, not all residents were angry about the large number of police and military patrolling the area. Both Brunswick and Savannah have particularly high crime rates and some citizens said they felt safer with the increased security patrols in the streets.
Robert Oâ€™Toole, the Deputy Superintendent of the Boston Police Department, was in the area to monitor both the G8 protests and law enforcement security measures. Like many other police involved in the G8, he said the extreme militarization was justified by the possibility of violence from protesters or terrorists.
"I donâ€™t think itâ€™s overkill and hopefully at the end of this, youâ€™ll be doing a story on why did we have so many cops and law enforcement and military," said Oâ€™Toole. "And thatâ€™s a good story, because that meant you had no problems."
But many locals believed the extensive military and police presence did more harm than good. Businesses near roads that were blocked by police had to close for the week. Others suffered as a result of media coverage before the summit that repeatedly raised the spectre of violent protests and terrorism. Many would-be costumers were afraid to go outside and shop.
PHOTO:Brunswick, GA resident Martha Bizzle, grandson at her side, talks about the military and police build-up surrounding the G8 meetings in her town.
The expensive security effort stood in stark contrast to economic conditions in communities near the G8 Summit that struggle with poverty, pollution and high unemployment. Back in October, Georgia lawmakers secured $25 million from the Iraq appropriations bill for G8 Summit security, while Brunswick and Savannah continue to suffer high jobless rates and economic depression.
Jay Norman, a resident of Brunswick commented on this disparity, "Itâ€™s just a waste of tax payersâ€™ money. What about us? Weâ€™re starving, got homeless people out here. I canâ€™t even get my proper income. This is America right? Supposed to be the land of the free? Well god damn, it doesnâ€™t feel like that sometimes."