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Outrageous Civil Rights Violations in Birmingham Against Pro-Life Youth Activists; News Conference Today at Birmingham City Jail

Contact: Gingi Edmonds, Press Coordinator, Survivors, 909-213-8472

BIRMINGHAM, AL, Feb. 13 /Christian Newswire/ -- After a harrowing night in Birmingham City Jail following their unlawful arrest at Parker High School, all nine members of the Survivors Campus Life Tour have been released from custody.  The five female team members were released at approximately 7:00 a.m., and the four young men were released at 9:00 a.m.

A news conference will be held at 12:00 p.m. in front of the Birmingham City Jail at 501 6th Avenue South, Birmingham, Alabama 35217.  Fr. Terry Gensemer, Rector of the Church of the Reconciler Charismatic Episcopal Church, in Fairfield, Alabama, will open the conference.  Members of the Campus Life Tour will make statements about their ordeal, and will be available for questions. 

As the youth were released, new details emerged about the outrageous civil rights violations that occurred yesterday at Parker High School in Birmingham.

Quietly standing on public sidewalk:
While at Parker High School, all but two members of the Survivors Campus Life Tour team distributed educational literature to passing students.  Two of the team members, Lahoci Franco, age 24, and Rev. Henry "Bud" Shaver, age 30, held large signs and dialogued with students on the public sidewalk.  A campus officer called the police department when the Survivors declined to leave the area, as they knew they had a right to stand on the sidewalk.  Over a dozen squad cars arrived at the school, and the police officers began arresting members of the Survivors team, beginning with Franco.  As he was being arrested, Shaver was informed that the sidewalk was not public property for "non-citizens of Birmingham". 

"We're just doing what Rosa Parks would have done":
Joseph Jones, 23, picked up a sign where Franco had been forced to drop it when he was arrested, and he was summarily detained by police and taken to a squad car.  When the police spoke to Jones and Robert Coppock, age 22, regarding their unwillingness to leave the public sidewalk, the young men responded, "We're just doing what Rosa Parks would have done - we didn't want to move."

Videotaping witnesses arrested without warning:
Kortney Blythe, age 26 and Director of the Survivors Campus Life Tours, was videotaping the entire event and speaking with her attorney on the phone, when an officer approached her from behind and pulled her arm behind her back.  Without any reason for his actions, the officer escorted Kortney to a squad car and ordered her to join Shara Guengerich, age 18, who had also been detained without any reason given while she was distributing literature on the sidewalk.  Tara Shaver, age 24, begged the police officers to let her go when they detained her as she distributed literature, but she was also put into a squad car without being given a reason for her detainment.  Guengerich was handcuffed so tightly that she was shaking and crying from the pain, but arresting officers ignored her pleas for relief.

"Are we being kidnapped now?":
The remaining members of the Campus Life Tour team attempted to leave the school, and were packing up the Survivors van with literature and signs when police officers approached and arrested them. It was clear, however, that even if Ashley Hartsell, age 19, Cristianna Cherf, age 21, and Tara Shaver, age 24, had wanted to drive the van away from the school, they could not have done so.  The van was surrounded by police cars, and the young women felt intimidated and confused when they were forced to leave the van without any reason and placed into a squad car.  One of the young women questioned, "Are we being kidnapped now?"

Van impounded, searched, and willfully damaged by police officers:
The Campus Life Tour van was seized by the police at the scene, searched, and as it was being towed witnesses heard scrapings sounds and saw significant damage to the underbody and frame of the vehicle.

"You're in Alabama now":
All nine members of the Campus Life Tour were taken to the Birmingham City Jail, where they were forced to change into orange jumpsuits and placed in holding cells for 6 hours without water or access to a phone, as the officers ignored their requests for help.  They were booked and placed in cells around 1:00 a.m., but were not released until hours later, the young women at 7:00 a.m. and the men at 9:00 a.m.  The group was released without any paper citations, only bond forms stating a generic "Charge of  Trespassing" with no penal code listed on the form. 

As the officers questioned Blythe at the jail, she stated that the Constitution protected her right to stand on a public sidewalk.  The police officers' response was clear: "You're in Alabama now." 

Youth minister kept in shackles by jail guards who also work as abortion clinic security:
At the Birmingham City Jail, in an eerie throwback to the past, Rev. Shaver was handcuffed and shackled at his feet.  Despite repeated requests from his attorney to remove the shackles, guards kept the painful and restrictive shackles on Rev. Shaver for hours.  Rev. Shaver and the other young men were informed during their jail stay that several of the guards at the jail also serve as security guards at a local abortion clinic. 

"We were arrested yesterday because of the content of our message. It's clear from the attitudes and actions of the police officers that our message of life is not welcome in Birmingham, and prejudice is alive and well in this city.  It is a shame that this historic city which saw the Civil Rights movement firsthand continues to refuse basic civil rights to peaceful activists simply on the basis of their message," states Kortney Blythe, Director of the Survivors Campus Life Tours. "We are shocked by the Birmingham Police Department's response to our peaceful actions, and we call upon the Chief of Police to initiate a thorough investigation of yesterday's horrifying civil rights abuses. The Survivors will continue to peacefully promote a culture of life and expose the truth of abortion in Birmingham and throughout the state of Alabama, regardless of the actions of prejudiced police officers."

Fr. Terry Gensemer, Rector of the Church of the Reconciler Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fairfield states, "What an ironic situation. The actions by the Birmingham Police Department are not only deplorable and shameful but are in direct conflict with the spirit and passion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". These young people who have correctly included unborn children as persons deserving of civil rights should be commended, not condemned."