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Atlanta: Operation Rescue

By Leilani Corpus
Published November 1, 1988

ATLANTA GA (FR) – Atlanta became the center of the nation’s media attention in early October as television viewers watched pro-life rescuers being kicked, punched, hit and dragged to arrest for protesting abortion at the city’s major abortion clinics in early October. During the turbulent week, city officials were shocked at the brutal police treatment of the hundreds of pro-life activists that poured into Atlanta between Oct. 2nd and 8th as part of an effort called Operation Rescue (OR).

An extreme example of police brutality was the case of one of the “rescuers,” Pastor Doyle Clark, who almost died while imprisoned. He was brutally treated, and hospitalized for a short term. Clark passed out when a policeman, who was doing a classic “civil rights” compliance hold, jabbed his thumbs into his ears instead of the pressure points on his neck.

A United Brethern pastor, Clark had traveled from Indiana to take part in the rescue mission. He was one of the activisits who were thrown into a bus while protesting three major clinics: Hillcrest, Feminist Women’s Health Center, and The Atlanta Surgi-Center.

Observers have compared the rescue effort to that of the late author Corrie Ten Boom who was renowned for her effort to rescue the Jews during the holocaust of World War II. “Corrie Ten Boom went beyond the law of the day when she rescued the Jews and we are here to rescue the unborn.” said a participant. Rescue participants base their involvement on a scripture: “Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death” (Proverbs 24:11).

To discourage the massive protests, police donned riot gear, carried billy clubs, and erected a steel barricade to prevent demonstrators from the entrances of the clinics. Police were instructed by Maj. K.E. Burnette in heavy-handed tactics such as twisting arms and the use of pressure points. Several police officers, though, strayed beyond the official boundaries of “compliance holds,” and were kicking, punching, and hitting rescuers with their billy clubs. One priest had his clerical clothes torn off and his collar stuffed in his mouth.

Despite the brutality, some policemen were visibly moved and were reluctant to force the crawling rescuers to stand up. One policeman cried, and asked another for assurance that a pregnant woman they were dragging away from the clinic would not be harmed.

The city of Atlanta did not respond favorably to the brutality, however; Maj. Burnette was given a stinging indictment from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The day before the first rescue, Burnette had informed reporters that he intended to inflict severe pain because the rescuers had a “warped theology.” When asked to define “warped theology,” he refused to comment. However, Burnette explained, “I will use any physical incentive necessary that will bring these people to their knees. They will not tell me what to do.”

Later that week, Burnette changed his tactics due to phone calls and a formal complaint from the ACLU filed with Mayor Andrew Young’s office. Rescuers, reporters, and observers contend that police officers were extremely brutal in their treatment.

OR Spokesman Juli Loesch said she didn’t know anything about the ACLU complaint. “They haven’t contacted us about their activities.” She added that she saw Atlanta-area ACLU Director Gene Guerrero escorting women into a clinic. “If they assisted us legally, it would definitely be a conflict of interests,” she stated.

Randall Terry, International Director of OR, called for the removal of Maj. Burnette after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial. Terry was arrested on Monday, October 3rd, on charges of conspiracy, and had a $75,000 bail posted. Ironically, Terry’s cellmate, a cocaine dealer with charges of deadly assault, had a bail posted at $54,000. An Atlanta couple paid the bond on Terry’s bail.

Terry had been arrested outside a Catholic church by two plainsclothes policemen while training rescuers on the evening before the event began. At the onset of the training session, a priest told the audience that if anyone had any intention of arresting Terry, he should take care of it outside since they were meeting in a “house of God.” Terry was then escorted outside by the two officers.

Rescuers were trained to take the “most non-aggressive posture you can take while attempting to occupy the door,” said Loesch. “They were trained and instructed to walk and not run. There was no shouting, chanting, or picket signs.” When they were within 15 feet of the policemen, they were instructed to stay on their knees and crawl. “They were as aggressive as a throw rug,” she said. “This was to display the humility that Christ had before His accusers.”

Besides protesting at the three abortion facilities, the rescuers also went to MidTown Hospital. “As a policy we don’t protest at hospitals,” said Loesch. “But MidTown’s services are solely geared towards giving third trimester abortions.”

Arrested and charged with failure to disburse, unlawful assembly, and failure to give their names, (some had given their names, however,) bail was set at $2,000 for most rescuers. When the bond had been paid, and the paperwork had been processed, Loesch said, jail authorities continued to delay their release.

The rescuers weren’t the only ones harassed by police. Several major news stations said they were also threatened with arrest if their cameramen filmed rescuers being arrested. Al J. Briganti of CBS News said he and his crew were told by police, “You can shoot in this direction (toward the clinic) and we won’t arrest you. Shoot in the other direction (where rescuers would be arrested) and we will arrest you.” While following OR leader Randall Terry, Briganti said they were stopped by police and the news van’s license number was taken. “It was clear we were the only people stopped,” said Briganti. “The only people they were interested in stopping were the television cameramen.”

Former 1960’s civil rights demonstrators who are now city and state officials agree that the police action was unnecessary. A black City Councilman, Hosea Williams, who marched with the late Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “I think what is happening in Atlanta right now is just terribly anti-American. It hurts me so bad that we who were the leaders of the movement in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, are now the political leaders, and we are doing the same things to demonstrators that George Wallace and Bull Connor and those did to us.”

Williams also blasted the department and the city for their unwillingness to tolerate peaceful dissent. “When I saw the police twisting arms and bending fingers and using pressure points, well that’s the way Adolf Hitler got started,” he said. “I was very hurt and surprised at the way the anti-abortion demonstrators were mistreated.”

The police department is currently being investigated by a city council committee in response to complaints filed by the demonstrators – particularly the case of one rescuer who was kicked by an officer. Councilman Dozier Smith said, “I think it was a sad day for the city of Atlanta when a police major is (seen) on television kicking a person.”

Although abortion clinic staff attempted to continue operating with volunteer escorts leading clients through the crowds, sources say the clinics were actually closed the entire week and experienced a dramatic decline in business. By the same token, several local pro-life pregnancy centers said that they experienced a significant increase in their case loads – from 50 percent to 100 percent.

The Atlanta police brouhaha may escalate into a federal “civil rights” lawsuit filed by Operation Rescue as more stories such as the case of Father Norman Weslin, who was put in solitary confinement for saying mass, are revealed. As the indignation of state and city officials, and media spokesmen are aroused, the rescuer’s cause – abortion – may become the most pivotal issue of the presidential election and the next decade.


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